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Librarians Between the Covers: "Like Holden Caulfield, Sascha is sometimes annoying in her arrogance, her cruelty and her seeming selfishness.

Date: Apr 20 2010

Written by Alina Bronsky and translated from the German by Tim Mohr, Broken Glass Park is a coming of age story about a girl (Sascha Naimann) who is full of rage — and for very good reason. Her mother was murdered by her stepfather, and Sascha has vengeance in her heart. As the novel unfolds, however, we learn that the person Sascha is most able to hurt further is herself.

Translations are tricky for the reader. There was a certain spare, almost cleverly stilted manner to Sascha’s phrasing (she serves as narrator for the entire book). But I found myself obsessed with the concern that it wasn’t the author’s intended voice I was noticing, but rather the translator’s effect. And while the images and cultural references were at times completely global — such as when Sascha goes to see Brokeback Mountain at the movies, or talks about rapper Eminem, at other times I felt lost in a world I knew nothing about, and confused. Honestly, not to put too fine a point on it, I never understood the choice of the title “Broken Glass Park”. I gather it was a park/playground with a lot of broken glass near it, that all the bad kids hung out, and there is a graphic scene or two that takes place there… but Sascha spends about five pages there throughout the entire book, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around what that title choice had to say about the rest of the novel.

It was a compelling story, a page-turner, and the plot moves quickly (perhaps too quickly) as Sascha moves forward, always filled with rage but sometimes with sorrow, clearly lashing out at those around her, or using them in other ways, as an expression of her grief and her fear. In that sense, none of what I said above matters, as it is very much her story and no one else’s to plot out. In much the same way that Holden Caulfield moved forward from one situation to the next, all the while filled with emotions he did not know how to process, Sascha Naimann does the same. Also like Caulfield, it is fair to note, Sascha is sometimes annoying in her arrogance, her cruelty and her seeming selfishness. As a reader, and particularly as an adult reader, at times listening to her teenaged righteousness became tiresome — until you remember, as with Caulfield, that she is a traumatized child who does not know how to cope with the powerful emotions within her. Although the ending is ambiguous, I think Sascha’s chances are slightly better; there is a strength within her, unflinching, that comes through on every page.