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Leafing Through Life: "Broken Glass Park is brutal. Bronsky doesn't shy away from uncomfortable subjects."

Date: Jun 14 2010

Sascha Naimann is not like the rest of the people who live in her broken down apartment building in Berlin. They don't have dreams, or if they do, their dreams are stupid and shallow. Sascha, however, has two dreams, two important goals in life. One is to write a book about her mother, the other is to kill the man who murdered her mother.

Broken Glass Park is Sascha's story. It's obvious right from the start that Sascha is a different sort of narrator. She's not soft or sympathetic. Despite the bad hand life seems to have dealt her, Sascha isn't looking for pity. She's prickly at best and, at worst, downright cruel to the people who have the misfortune of stumbling into her path. Yet, she is intelligent. She is her half-brother and sister's fierce protector and a determined force in seeing that they are educated and brought up properly. She loves her mother as much as she hated her mother for her weakness and foolishness. She claims to loathe men, yet can't stop herself from wanting to be desired by them. Sascha is a study in contradictions and a narrator that is hard to understand and even harder to love.

Told from Sascha's first person point of view, Broken Glass Park is brutal. Bronsky doesn't shy away from uncomfortable subjects. She gives us glimpses of a certain sensitivity and nobility in Sascha, but never long enough for us to forget the narrator's angry, cruel streak. Just as Sascha doesn't let anyone in her life get too near, we, the readers, aren't allowed to get too near either, just stand to the side reading as Sascha battles her way through the remainder of her deeply troubled youth.

Broken Glass Park is a story that is undeniably well-told. Sascha's character, whether you like her or not, is vividly created in Bronsky's spare, straight-forward prose nicely translated from German by Tim Mohr. All her contradictions and her confusion are laid bare for us and despite being unable to love her, as a reader, you can't help but hope for a redemptive end to Sascha's story.

Unfortunately, however, I didn't love the book. While I read the whole thing and found the narrator's voice unique and at times captivating, I felt as if I were never fully engrossed in the story. The rough nature of the story and the narrator's prickly, cruel, self-destructive personality were often off-putting which kept me from being entirely taken in by it. More than once I found myself frustrated and perplexed by Sascha's actions, which inasmuch as it may be indicative of a strong well-written character, didn't make Broken Glass Park a particularly rewarding reading experience for me. It was real, and it was gritty, perhaps, a bit too gritty and real for my tastes.