Towards Better Democracy

Good words, well written, better the world. Good literature betters the world immeasurably.

Skating on Glass

Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky published by Europa Editions, 2010.

I am a big fan of the publishers, Europa Editions. I admire the fact that they launched into the American market in the face of a muckle heap of skepticism.

And they have been clever. They have not restricted themselves to translations. Fay Weldon is their latest English language author. And within translations, they have been clever; they publish European Noir (crime, detective, dahling, that sort of thing).

Bronsky fits neither of those categories. I puzzle. She uses a nom de plume (there he goes again, why can’t that man speak English? Cuz pseudonym sounds awful). Alina Bronsky seems, based on the strength of this novel, a thoroughly accomplished woman.

The book is, I suppose, a coming of age novel.

At a metaphoric level, though, there appears to be something else going on. Take the title. Broken glass – bit menacing, no? And then one can play with it: Broken Grass Plark.

Although the book is set in and around Frankfurt, the setting feels more like Berlin. A Berlin of a recently fallen wall. I don’t know Frankfurt. There may be glass parks there. And a large Russian immigrant population. But Berlin fits better … in my mind.

I enjoyed the principal character, Sascha. She is sympathetically drawn and I liked her. Sascha is very much in line with a series of spunky young women whom a whole slew of European women writers have employed as their their central character; Magda in Dorota Maslowska’s Snow White and Russian Red,

The unnamed character in Melissa P’s A Hundred Strokes of the Brush Before Bed (mmmn, a de Sadian title, that one),

Helen in Wetlands of Charlotte Roche.

These young women (the heroines, not necessarily the authors) are each of them independent, resourceful, willful; if not punk-like, then fierce. And they are young, all around eighteen. Although they can be younger as is the case with Paloma, the 12 year old in Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Parenthetically, and staying for a moment with titles, Barbery, being a philosopher in real life, may be echoing Isiah Berlin’s famous essay, The Hedgehog and the Fox with her title.
Note that I am drawing attention to similarities in the respective heroines, not necessarily the books.

Anyway, to get past the busy stuff and back to where we were and the doings of the young Sascha. Let me come straight out and say I found the ending disappointing. I am not going to give it away, never fear. But it is too neat and tidy, and disposes of everything, no doubt. But for a novel which is proudly realistic, it is not, well, realistic.

Peter, Volker Trebor’s son is also not realistic. He seems wet, pampered and spoiled, and I see no reason why Sascha should give him a passing glance never mind spending time with him.

Volker, on the other hand, is a better cut, but still not well drawn. He seems strong but then appears wet at the edges. Why the emphasis on strong males? Because I can’t imagine Sascha being attracted to anything else. She hates men for reasons the book makes perfectly clear.

The plush comfortable Trebor household – now that is convincing. There is every reason, given Sascha’s uncomfortable surroundings, that she should find the Trebor accommodation very enticing. At eighteen, yanked from an immigrant ghetto to a comfy country house, who wouldn’t?

On the other hand, the scene at the hospital is simply cardboard cutout. This is Nursie and Doc not ER. “Pass the stethoscope, will you Nurse?” Eught!

I suppose everyone has a favourite scene from anything they have enjoyed: play, film, book, etc. And I have mine from this.

Sascha is in the foyer of the publishing building where she will meet Volker Trebor.

“Ms Mahler will be down to get you in a moment.”
“To get me?” I am briefly startled. The receptionist can’t do anything about my associations. [p57]

– – – – – – – – –  ~ – – – – – – – – –  ~ – – – – – – – – –  ~ – – – – – – – – –

“You are here about Ms. Mahler’s article,” the man [Volker] says perceptively.
I nod.
“What do you think of it?” he asks.
“It’s shit,” I say.
Ms. Mahler tries to smile but can’t. [59]

– – – – – – – – –  ~ – – – – – – – – –  ~ – – – – – – – – –  ~ – – – – – – – – –

You are capable of reading, Ms. Naimann [Sascha], I think to myself. You taught yourself how to read when you were four…
So read it.

I look at him quizzically.

“Call me when you think of something I can do,” he says. [p61]

– – – – – – – – –  ~ – – – – – – – – –  ~ – – – – – – – – –  ~ – – – – – – – – –

That’s when I see them—the shoes.
I wouldn’t have noticed them if I hadn’t tripped over them. They’re big, stained leather shoes. The laces hang limply from them.
Huh, I think lethargically , and shove them aside with my foot. I want to go straight to my room. But I stop at the door to my room and turn around to look back at the shoes again.

It’s a riddle, I think. A pear, a banana, an apple, and a circular saw: which one of these things is not like the rest? [p64]

– – – – – – – – –  ~ – – – – – – – – –  ~ – – – – – – – – –  ~ – – – – – – – – –

Oh, and the girls, the young women. In all of the books mentioned, besides being independent, resourceful and willful, each of them is bright; fiercely so. That makes them doubly attractive as characters.


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