BROKEN GLASS PARK by Alina Bronsky
“Sometimes I think Iâ€™m the only one in our neighborhood with any worthwhile dreams. I have two, and thereâ€™s no reason to be ashamed of either one. I want to kill Vadim. And I want to write a book about my mother. I already have a title: The Story Of An Idiotic Redheaded Woman Who Would Still Be Alive If Only She Had Listened To Her Smart Oldest Daughter.”
Review by Poornima Apte (APR 13, 2010)
There are many reasons why teenaged Sascha Naimann is as tough as nails. She is a survivor of abuse, lives in the projects in Germany (in an urban ghetto called the Emerald) and is orphaned after her stepfather kills her mother (and her motherâ€™s boyfriend) in a fit of jealous rage.
Despite the severe circumstances she is thrown intoâ€”or maybe because of themâ€”Sascha does not like to be pitied. Yes, she occasionally wonders how life would have turned out if she lived in a different place, was a native German (she is a Russian immigrant) or grew up in a â€śnormalâ€ť family. But what motivates Sascha every day is a furious and relentless drive to get even with Vadimâ€”the step-dad who took away her dear mother. The quote above is the first few lines from the book and could qualify as one of the best openers I have read in recent memory.
As the novel opens, Sascha is just learning to navigate life as a precocious, recently orphaned teenager. She is largely responsible for the well being of her much younger stepsister, Alissa, and stepbrother, Anton. After the murders, the state steps in and a distant cousin of Vadimâ€™s from Russia, Maria, comes in to take care of the kids. While Mariaâ€”who used to work in a factory cafeteria in Novosibirskâ€”fixes meals for the fractured family, it becomes obvious very rapidly that she is not good for much else. Mariaâ€™s isolation from everyday German society makes her as dependent on Sascha as little Anton and Alissa.
One day, Sascha spots a newspaper article about Vadim written in what she perceives to be a flattering light. To Sascha, Vadim is a monsterâ€”that the paper instead portrays him as a human being with faults, drives her crazy. Furious, she makes her way to the paperâ€™s headquarters in Frankfurt. Here she meets both the articleâ€™s author and Volker Trebur, the editor of the city section in which the article was published. Volker feels personally responsible for Saschaâ€™s trauma and invites her to ask any favor of him that will absolve him of his perceived guilt.
Soon Sascha cashes in on this opportunity and makes herself a guest at the Volker residence. She takes a break from her siblings, from Maria, from the ghetto where she lives, and gets a taste of what her life could have been like. She even strikes a tentative relationship with Volkerâ€™s teenaged son.
Of course this side trip is only a fairy tale and real life must come knocking soon enough. Eventually Sascha returns to her home in the projects and the gritty realities of life in the Emerald. The broken glass park in the title is a particularly rough area in the neighborhood where Sascha comes to an awakening of sorts about the life that lies ahead of her.
Alina Bronsky, the bookâ€™s young and talented author, has deservedly garnered all kinds of acclaim for this debut. Incidentally the author name is a pseudonym. Saschaâ€™s voice is perfect and the reader falls in love with her no-nonsense and intelligent outlook on life. Bronsky also does a wonderful job of portraying the other women in the bookâ€”Saschaâ€™s kind yet abused mother and even Maria, the cousin.
The book is not without its problems however. A particularly important character in the story, Volker Trebur, is extremely unconvincingly drawn. Both his character and his motivations are difficult to fathom. Itâ€™s hard to imagine a grown man with a teenaged son suddenly taking in a troubled teenager just because she thinks an article approved by him might be damning. In fact, the reader might even find Saschaâ€™s flight to the Trebur household difficult to understand. Itâ€™s almost as if Bronsky wanted to take this story somewhere else and then in the end, couldnâ€™t quite make it all work.
Overall, Broken Glass Park introduces us to a strong and capable voice. Considering this is Bronskyâ€™s debut itâ€™s an extremely laudable effort. Sascha will endear herself to readers and her character is a welcome addition to fiction.
It comes as no surprise that Saschaâ€™s favorite artist is Eminem. â€śHeâ€™s the only artist I have been able to listen to in the last two yearsâ€”for hours on end,â€ť she says. â€śAnd the only one I really believe, the only one who has lived what he describes in his music.â€ť So when Eminem sings: â€śMy life is full of empty promises and broken dreams,â€ť Sascha can empathize. Her life at Emerald is only slightly better, she knows, than what her favorite singer has lived and endured. (Translated by Tim Mohr.)
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 15 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Europa Editions (March 30, 2010)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Alina Bronksy (in German)|
|EXTRAS:||Excerpt and Reading GuideComplete Review on Broken Glass Park|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||More coming-of-age….|