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An emotionally involving coming-of-age novel from the expatriate East German author of Jacob the Liar (1979) that finally disappoints with an abrupt finish, as though unable to confront the issues it raises. In 1973, in East Berlin, a young man goes to the family cottage to meet his girlfriend Martha. He surprises his Jewish father, along with two other men, as they terrorize an old man, a former concentration camp guard. This generational trauma--significant in personal, social and historical terms--then proceeds on two converging tracks. One follows the young man's actions after he realizes that the former Nazi will be imprisoned at the cottage. In Hamlet-like alienation, unable to confront his Jewish heritage, the adolescent skirmishes with his surly father, visits his institutionalized sister Elle (herself a disturbed victim of the war) as well as the shackled camp guard, and deals awkwardly with his baffled girlfriend. The other track concerns the young man's troubled personal life once his father dies and his former girlfriend's parents, thinking he will marry Martha, take him in. The most compelling sections of the book dramatize how the relationship has already deteriorated--in part because Martha, a budding actress, takes a small part in a concentration camp film. After much brooding, our young man goes on his way, but first reveals that his father died standing beside the shackled guard. Interesting in its depiction of Jewish anguish and national guilt from an East German perspective. Finally, though, the book simply ends rather than gets resolved, for it depends too much on a confused adolescent narrator to clarify its political and historical dimensions. He's not up to the task, though perhaps a more sympathetic reader might argue that the depiction of such an identity crisis is the point.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1988
ISBN: 0226041271
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich