The candid adventures of a plucky, German-obsessed American student.
Slate columnist Schuman’s youth in the 1990s plays out through the nine chapters of her hilarious memoir, her first book. The author titles each chapter with a relevant German word, reflecting a mood or event in her self-discovery and her vivid love for German culture, including an enduring, lifelong affinity for Franz Kafka—who, she notes, wasn’t German. During her senior year in high school, this self-proclaimed “nonpracticing half-Jew from Oregon” spent her time poring over SAT practice tests and nurturing a fawning obsession with Dylan, a handsome, “so brilliant and so pained” geek who found Schuman’s brainy awkwardness intellectually stimulating. But his college dreams and personal goals stagnated any progression in their relationship. The author plodded on at college as a German major and then fully immersed herself in the culture, grammar, and history of life abroad. A culture clash ensued immediately as her host family found Schuman’s new “postgrunge aesthetic” quite different from her introductory photograph. Surviving on her own with a newfound independence breathed new life into her travels, and she moved into a loft residence in Berlin as a vegetarian and “moderate smoker.” Highlights include a mishap involving the recovery of her lost passport, pithy social observations, and epiphanies about how hypocritical Germanic culture can be. “They will think nothing of telling you that you have gained weight,” she writes, “but in other situations, they have ironclad laws of politeness.” The author’s comparison of Prague’s post–Cold War metamorphosis to Gregor Samsa’s own transformation is creatively descriptive, as is her account of her anxiety at being perceived as having Imposter Syndrome while at graduate school in Southern California. Built on her inner angst and painstaking quest for self-discovery throughout her burgeoning adulthood, Schuman’s memoir is a comedic patchwork of quirky anecdotes written in smooth, sometimes-cocky prose, liberally sprinkled with free-flowing expletives and consistent sincerity.
Schuman’s droll, self-deprecating, wild life (so far) will find particular appeal with readers who enjoy memoirs that don’t take themselves too seriously.