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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Housing Project Hill: Novel about Russian immigrants in German, or is it?

Alina Bronsky's Broken Glass Park (2008) is by no means a major work of fiction but it's a fine debut novel showing a promising talent. Bronsky creates a credible, sharp-tongued, troubled, beleaguered, self-destructive narrator (Sascha) who comes to us, or to me anyway, from an unfamiliar world - Russian immigrants marginally settled in a grim German housing project. To her credit, Bronsky packs this short narrative with action an events; the novel centers on Sascha's desire to avenge the death of her mother by killing the murderer, who's doing time in prison. We never quite take her ambition seriously, as there's no possible way she could act on this impulse, but it does establish her as a driven and possibly dangerous young woman. After many episodes and encounters, at the end of the novel she does engage in a destructive act - though hardly on the level of murder. As a result of the suffering she's endured, she sees herself as a man-hater, but over the course of the novel she does develop a tender loving relationship with a young man her age - although she also, for no clear reason, abjects herself before a neo-Nazi guy whom she loathes. She's one of these really tough people who sees herself as a victim - and in fact who pursues and nourishes her victim-hood: for example, she develops a seemingly good relationship with an older man, a newspaper editor, who gives her shelter from her difficult family - but then she follows him into his bedroom one night, makes alluring sexual comments, eventually he lunges at her, tries to have sex with her, fortunately thinks better of it and stops, humiliated. He's a beast, but she's not blameless, either. As in so many novels, there's no clear conclusion to this one; Sascha heads off for Prague - heading out for the territories, you might say - leaving her problems unresolved and in the rear-view mirror - a quintessentially American ending. I suppose this entire novel could be transposed to a housing project in any American city - which makes it, if not exactly universal, a novel that speaks to our time rather than to a specific place or culture.

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