Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Broken Glass Park, by Alina Bronsky. Translated from German by Tim Mohr. Europa Editions (2010), 211 pages.

Broken Glass Park is a coming of age novel originally published in Germany (so I suppose I should properly refer to it as a Bildungsroman).  The coming-of-age protagonist is a seventeen-year-old Russian immigrant living in the slums of Berlin. I loved her voice, and found her to be refreshingly unpredictable. I couldn’t guess, for example, what her intentions were when—after going to the newspaper offices to complain about the tone of an article concerning her stepfather’s recent murder of her mother—she winds up contacting the senior editor at his home and inviting herself to stay with him for a few days. Nor was I sure what she was thinking when—on an impromptu date with a kid who gradually reveals himself to be an immigrant-hating, far-right member of the National Party—she pressures him to rollerblade with her toward a wooded area in a bad part of town.

This is a fast-paced and unsentimental story that reminded me of The Catcher in the Rye. I recommend it highly. Just one rather minor point, though (I almost feel petty complaining about this, but since I was forcefully pulled out of the story and had to put it down for a bit as a result, this must be said): what possessed the translator to translate “dachshund” into “weiner dog”? How could he not know that “dachshund” is, in English, “dachshund”? He turned our tough, gritty narrator into a three-year-old. She simply never would have said that. Nor would she have called her guardian “dumpling.” So this is perhaps not the finest translation of Bronsky’s work.

I turn the corner and find myself in the living room. I have to shield my eyes because there’s a bright TV on. The sound is off. Christina Aguilera is dancing on the screen, her blond dreads flying around and her mouth straining. She seems distraught that she’s unable to make a sound.

Against the wall is a couch, long and oddly shaped, like a giant shrimp. There’s a mound on the couch. Shit, I think, trying to back out of the room. But the mound begins to rise. It sheds its husk—a blanket. I retreat, startled, and step on the remote. Christina Aguilera’s voice blasts through the air at full volume.

The noise is so jarring that I squat down and put my hands over my ears. My eardrums feel like they’ve just burst. And it’s still loud as hell. The mound on the couch morphs into a human shape, jumps on the floor, and pounds a button on the remote. The TV screen goes dark. I can hardly believe how immediate the silence is. I stand up again. In the dark, I can’t tell who is standing in front of me…

“You must be the…,” he says, knitting his brows.
“Right. Volker told me about you. You stayed out of sight all evening. I was wondering where you were hiding.”
“I was tired. I fell asleep.”