The lead singer of a British rock band offers wryly comic glimpses of a young and thoroughly insignificant Berlin man on the eve of one of the most momentous events in late-20th-century European history.
Friends call Frank “Herr Lehmann” because his 30th birthday is drawing near, though Lehmann finds the honorific—like most everything else that happens to him in this episodic debut novel—disruptive, humiliating and unfulfilling, but not so disagreeable that he can’t just shrug his shoulders and move on. When he’s had a few too many with his boss one night and a strange dog parks itself in front of him, Herr Lehmann is terrified at first, and then, recognizing another lost soul, shares some Scotch with the beast. A relationship blossoms with a sexy female chef, Katrina, that peaks at a Star Wars film festival and then fades when they can’t quite figure out whether they’re in love. Late-night brawls with strangely belligerent gays and mysterious men who may or may not be spies leave him bruised but unchanged. A visit from Lehmann’s fuzzy but sincere parents is surprisingly agreeable, even when they send him on a doomed errand to smuggle money to a relative on the Communist side of the Berlin Wall. Alas, Lehmann’s best friend, sculptor and fellow bartender Karl Schmidt, has become mentally unglued (“We made a perfect team, like Bonnie and Clyde or Laurel and Hardy or Simon and Garfunkel or Sacco and Vanzetti”), but, after Karl smashes his artworks (“ ‘Deconstruction,’ said Karl, laughing happily”), it’s left to Lehmann to shepherd the man to a psychiatric hospital ward. Minutes after Herr Lehmann’s pleasantly hopeless 30th birthday, the Berlin Wall, a few miles away, comes down. But, for the Berliners of Herr Lehmann’s crowd, life will go on . . . and on.
Quietly funny and vaguely sad: an existential traipse implying that it’s those who have no history who make the world go ’round.