Susan Midalia's Review
Internationally acclaimed German writer Jenny Erpenbeck’s new novel, with its focus on an adulterous affair, is at first glance a departure from her explicitly political narratives. As the novel progresses, however, the relationship between Hans, a cultured married writer, and Katharina, a relatively unsophisticated and much younger student, becomes an allegory of sorts about the different ideologies of East and West Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Having grown up in the Communist East, Erpenbeck is intent on exposing the betrayal of her country’s socialist ideals, reflected in the deterioration of the relationship between Hans and Katharina: a once passionate and enriching love affair descends into physical and psychological abuse, suspicion and paranoia.
An Epilogue set after the fall of the Wall is both shockingly unexpected and, on reflection, subtly prepared for throughout the novel. This is political writing at its finest: ambivalent rather than dogmatic, heartbreaking as well as intellectually tough-minded, and in the hands of the skilled translator, Michael Hofmann, a compellingly complex read.
From a prize-winning German writer, this is the intimate and devastating story of the path of two lovers through the ruins of a relationship, set against the backdrop of a seismic period in European history.
Berlin. 11 July 1986. They meet by chance on a bus. She is a young student, he is older and married. Theirs is an intense and sudden attraction, fuelled by a shared passion for music and art, and heightened by the secrecy they must maintain. But when she strays for a single night he cannot forgive her and a dangerous crack forms between them, opening up a space for cruelty, punishment and the exertion of power. And the world around them is changing too: as the GDR begins to crumble, so too do all the old certainties and the old loyalties, ushering in a new era whose great gains also involve profound loss.