Another richly imagined tale of thwarted romance from Shakespeare (The Dancer Upstairs, 1997).
Again, the author spins a web of connections among characters whose lives have been warped or effaced by East German treachery under Communism. Peter Hithersay is a student at an English boarding school when his mother reveals, on his 16th birthday, that his father is an East German escapee from a work detail of political prisoners. From then on, Peter is a man unmoored: he becomes “German” at school, skips Oxford for medical school in Hamburg, and, on a fateful trip to Leipzig to see where his mother’s one-night tryst took place, ends up having a fateful one-nighter himself, with a young gamine nicknamed Snowleg. Love strikes Peter hard, but he turns coward when Snowleg takes up his offer to smuggle her to the West. The rest of his life is a bizarre and entertaining postmodern journey of atonement. Working without rest, he becomes a revered resident pediatrician while being romantically hogtied by an older dominatrix-esque artist, losing a ten-year-old patient by a fluke, failing his boards, and being busted for drug addiction. Starting over again, he goes back to school and becomes a gerontologist and Lothario who beds every woman within reach—without, of course, healing the wound that is Snowleg. A chance deathbed encounter with Snowleg’s grandmother prompts a frantic return to Leipzig and a search among Stasi files, a bit of neo-Nazi violence, near-gunplay, and, in the requisite reunion, Snowleg herself: married with children, then divorced, she’s been broken by Peter’s betrayal, though she’s put herself back together again and is an artist.
Both sentimental and avant-garde, much as with The Dancer Upstairs, the story here beats with so strong a pulse that its portrait of a frozen East Germany will remind readers of the journey anyone devastated by loss and betrayal must make in order to reach the point of risking love again.