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

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Pity the Poor Immigrant: Alina Bronsky's Broken Glass Park

Curiosity piqued by review of her most recent novel, I picked up a copy of Alina Bronsky's first novel, Broken Glass Park (translated from the German), and finding it engaging, credible - what feels like a true-to-life depiction of the life and times of a 17-year-old immigrant (from Russia) living in tough public-housing complex in a small city near Frankfurt. This novel is unusual within the vast realm of immigrant literature in that it's narrated by a young woman who is entirely assimilated - her German is fluent and unaccented, she's really in some ways like any teen living in her country, in near-poverty cheek to jowl with the prosperity of the contemporary German economy, but what does make this an "immigrant" novel is not her experience but that of her mother, her aunt, and their cohort - they are clearly at sea in Germany and reliant on the younger generation to navigate the waters. The story centers on a sensational case: the narrator (Shascha) lets us know in the first pages, maybe even the first sentence, that he mother has been murdered by an ex-husband/boyfriend (father of Sascha's two younger sibs), and Sascha wants revenge on the killer (imprisoned for life), Vadim. She's a really angry (understandably), smart, wily, aggressive, and witty young woman, and her voice drives this story, much like Holden Caulfield's drives Catcher. Of course, there's a world of difference between the two novels: Caulfield's alienation is so striking because he's in many ways a typical adolescent, albeit from a particularly disengaged family (shunting him off to boarding schools, etc.), which makes his story more resonant and even universal. Sascha's story is more particular to her circumstances, and we feel that she's not representative of her generation but of her particular tragedy. As the narrative moves along - one long piece w/ no chapter breaks, although there are a few (very few) line breaks well into the text - Sascha engages with a young man her age - her (and his) first experience of sex - and she learns, as she's taken in by his family (he lives w/ his divorced father) that the "haves" also experience fear and anxiety, as does she; this brief account may make this novel sound to schematic and polemical, which it definitely is not; I think it's to Bronsky's credit that she opens the narrative and has it involve people other than Sascha and her problems, that Sascha learns and grows over the course of her narrative.

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