SLEEPLESS DAYS by Jurek Becker

SLEEPLESS DAYS

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

This drab, strangely unsatisfying novella--from the now-expatriate East German author of Jacob the Liar (1975)--at first seems to be tapping the European existential-angst vein most recently mined by Peter Handke: East German schoolteacher Karl Simrock has a traumatic, slight pain in the heart one day (""for the first time Simrock was reminded that his life would not last forever"") and decides that he must radically change, must become more open and honest and inquiring. This soon leads to his walking out on his wife and child, moving in with his curt mother, doubting his role as an educator (he makes a list of ""desirable qualities of a good teacher""), taking a summer job as a coal-shoveler/bakery--trucker, and then setting up house with a cynical typist named Antonia. But gradually the emphasis shifts from personal awakening to political growth: Simrock realizes, contrary to State propaganda, that menial labor is not beautiful; he becomes more daring in his teaching, asking embarrassing questions of a military guest speaker, refusing to apologize, losing his job; and when Antonia is arrested and imprisoned for trying to slip into Austria from Hungary while on vacation, his consciousness is quickly raised a notch or two: ""Suddenly he was convinced she had every right to go wherever she pleased. . . ."" So, at the close, now knowing that it's ""up to me to rebel against regimentation and injustices,"" Simrock feels that ""my losses have helped me acquire an independence such as I have never known before."" Apparently Becker sees Simrock's personal angst and political oppression as interrelated traumas--a reasonable argument--but here the personal/political connections remain murky. And, in an erratic translation that probably reflects an uncertainty of tone in the original, this ends up being dissident writing of a distinctly minorleague nature--too abstract and mechanical to be emotionally involving, yet too mired in the hero's neurotic torpor to be ideologically inspiring.

Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 1979
ISBN: 0156827654
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich