Book: Alina Bronsky, Broken Glass Park
Europa Editions, 2010
English translation by Tim Mohr of German Scherbenpark
When and How to Walk Away from Your Own Story
?To give your sheep or cow a large spacious meadow is the way to control him.?
Seventeen-year-old Sascha meets a young Berliner who freely airs his anti-immigrant opinions, never suspecting that Sascha with her perfect German is herself a Russian immigrant. She leads him along, even adding a few more insults to his arsenal.
Where does she take this charmer on their first date? To the aptly named Broken Glass Park to hang with her homies, most of whom she despises and who in fact present a greater threat to her safety and well-being than does the xenophobe boyfriend.
Sascha lives in Berlin with her little brother and sister and an obese Russian relative who arrived to keep house after their mother was murdered. Their apartment building, the Emerald, is the tallest one in the vicinity, a towering monolith to the immigrant experience?vast, dilapidated, and teeming with a strangling internalized aggression. The desperate lives carried on within it are a testament to the oppressive legacy of classism, sexism, racism, and the intellectual strictures imposed by ghetto life with its endless vacillations between indigence and barely making it.
Sascha is not especially likable?She’s bossy, abrasive, sarcastic, vain, and miles too big for her breeches?but in spite of this (or because of it) she manages to be attractive enough to enchant the opposite sex again and again. Or is this just her perspective? Written in the first person, we hear this story from the mouth of a young girl not willing to admit to a smidgen of vulnerability, forever shielding her justifiable despair and fear with arrogance and a murderous wrath.
This is Sascha’s story, one from which she desires escape even while unconsciously repeating the circumstances of her personal nightmare, circling the fenced-in meadow of her life like the Zen cow, never to escape.
The language of this little novel is deceptively simple. Like the best of Cocteau, though it often reads like a children’s book it manifests all the depth of metaphor and substance of a classic European novel.
There is a salient absence of stable father figure in Sascha’s world, a vacuum that takes the form of a ravenous love-hunger, exploding in high-risk relationships that start and end far too quickly.
In the end all it takes to free Sascha is a heartfelt affirmation from another person that yes, she has suffered terribly, and that no, she didn’t deserve it. And a very clear sign that her ego defence, so necessary to her survival as a child, is now broken and can no longer serve her into adulthood.
Broken Glass Park manifests six of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for books well worth reading: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it confronts existing injustices; 3) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; 4) it is about attainment of the true self; 5) it provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavour; and 6) it poses and admirably responds to questions having a direct bearing on my view of existence.
The Bard could use some help scouting out new material. If you discover any books, compact disks, or movies which came out in the last twelve months and which you think fit the Bard’s criteria, please drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. If I agree with your recommendation, I’ll thank you online.