The lively debut memoir by a Tin House magazine co-founding editor about growing up in West Berlin then returning as an adult to post–Soviet-era East Berlin to find artistic purpose.
In 1964, Spillman’s parents went to Berlin on Fulbright scholarships to study music. When they separated a few years later, they decided that their small son would live with his closeted gay father. Surrounded by reminders of the Cold War—such as the Berlin Wall and a “giant U.S. Army base”—Spillman became immersed in a colorfully creative world of artists who hailed from all over the world. He and his father left only after the latter accepted a teaching position at the Eastman School of Music in New York. A perpetual outsider who felt at home nowhere, Spillman “read…to escape…but also to find myself,” especially after he went to live with his mother in Baltimore. During this period, the author also took up running and experimented with drugs. On the way to figuring out that he wanted to write, Spillman failed out of college once before finishing and survived three major car crashes. In New York City, he met his future wife, Elissa, and embarked on Kerouac-esque travel adventures in the U.S., Portugal, and then the former East Berlin, which had become a “petri dish of creation and foment, a rubble field in which to create a new life with the woman I loved.” Yet for all its familiarity, flaws, and youthful energy, the city never completely felt like home to Spillman, who decided to stop running away from himself and his life only after a brush with near tragedy. Musically and culturally astute, this well-structured book is a delightful coming-of-age story couched within a travel narrative that deftly evokes one of the major historical moments of the 20th century.
A richly detailed and always engaging memoir on artistic discovery.