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My Inflammatory Writ: "A bold and audacious debut."

Date: Apr 30 2010

Broken Glass Park is the story of Sascha Naimann, a 17-year old Russian immigrant living in Germany.  Sascha has one goal in her young life - which is to murder Vadim, Sascha's stepfather who brutally shot and killed her mother and her mother's boyfriend in cold blood, leaving Sascha an orphan to care for her two young siblings along with Maria, who is Vadim's cousin. Maria came to care for the children because Social Services required a guardian over the age of 18, and she does the best she can despite Sascha's aloofness. Sascha is reticent to open up to others - partially because of the scorn from other residents of the Emerald (the housing project she and her family live in) who think that Sascha and her family's very presence brings bad fortune to everyone who resides there, and partially because all that she loved had been cruelly taken away from her.

Despite Sascha's tragic background, she refuses to participate in much of the drinking, drugs, and violence in nearby Broken Glass Park, which is an area of town aptly named for its dilapidated state. She is also an excellent student who is eager to learn. When a newspaper article detailing Vadim's supposed atonement and reformation is published, a furious Sascha marches down to the newspaper office and meets Volker, the well-meaning editor of the paper who is determined to somehow make it up to her. Sascha takes him up on his offer and temporarily moves into his guestroom, where she begins an intense involvement with Volker and his teenaged son, Felix. By the end, Sascha is forced to deal with and face head-on  the inescapable cycle of violence and rage she has dealt with her whole life - and finds herself wandering towards the very things she has rejected.

The book is a very detailed and at times complex portrait of a young life marred by tragedy. Sascha's mother was shot in front of her, making her experience what is possibly the most traumatic thing a young person (or anyone) could witness - the death of a parent.  Bronsky does a fantastic job of writing a seventeen year old girl. Oftentimes, teenagers are written in such a way that they come off completely immature or way too adult. Sascha is neither. She is at once a child and a woman. She's as smart as she is naive, caustic as she is sweet, and as sexual as she is innocent. Sascha is often cold and unemotional, except when it comes to her traumatized younger brother Anton (who also witnessed the murder) and little sister Alissa (who is too young to remember what happened, and is perhaps the most unscathed of the three children). Sascha's desire to constantly want to do right by them, while at the same time being fully aware of the fact that she is in no position to parent, was a heartfelt and relatable struggle. Sascha's relationships with the adults in her life were also very interesting, and oftentimes inappropriate, though the adults were usually trying to do the right thing. I also was pulled in by the distant and pragmatic way Sascha used her sexuality to gain closeness to people, and also to get what she wanted. Most of all, I was very moved by how much Sascha wanted and needed to be loved, and also how much her general distrust of people and fear of abandonment kept her from finding true connection.

All in all, I would highly recommend this book. While the subject matter is dark, Bronsky has crafted a fascinating, nicely paced, and brisk story (partly due to an excellent translation by Tim Mohr). Sascha Naimann is a wonderful heroine for our time, and you root for her all the way even when she's messing up. I also think the book had interesting things to say about cycles of violence, especially violence towards women. I also found that it's exploration of boundary lines between almost-adult teenagers and adults was very well done. My only real criticism of the book was the ending. While the actual events leading up to it and the ending itself made sense narratively, I felt it lacked the emotional tautness and immediacy of the rest of the book. I also felt there were times in the book where the exposition and narration were a bit too "on the nose" and would have preferred to be shown and not told. Those are minor points, however. I really enjoyed this novel and could not put it down. I think it's a bold and audacious debut by Alina Bronsky, and I am interested to see what this talented author writes in the future.