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Der Spiegel (Germany): "Bronsky comes off as shrewd and feisty. She wears leather lace-up boots with her flowered summer dress, and the expression on her face is always one of skeptical expectation."

Date: Oct 18 2009

Gutter Perfume


The Russian-German Alina Bronsky is tipped as an exiting new literary talent – even at the Ingeborg Bachmann Reading Competition.

A book by a young writer in which the sentence “I hate men” becomes a kind of leitmotif cannot be all bad. That in its pages there are new drugs (like the so-called “pig-speed”), internet sex, no holds barred language, and rundown housing projects makes it even more interesting. And to top it off, the book’s heroes talk tough, things like, “You have your hell, I have mine.”

Alina Bronsky’s debut novel Broken Glass Park tells the story of a variegated humanity living in and around a ghetto-estate in Germany. What makes the book even more interesting is the author’s background. Born in 1978, raised in the Russian industrial town of Sverdlovsk (today Yekaterinburg) at the foot of the Ural Mountains, Bronsky moved to Germany with her family when she was 13 years old. So, do we have a young literary lion telling the hard-hitting story of her own rough childhood on the dangerous fringes of German society?

Whatever the answer, not a few jurors at the notorious Ingeborg-Bachmann-Award competition wanted her as their chosen candidate. For the yearly spectacle in the Austrian town of Klagenfurt, seven literary critics take aspiring authors under their wings, have them read from their current writing and afterwards expose them (live in front of an audience and the TV cameras) to praise and derision; this year’s show/reading ended last weekend.

Who wins is not quite as important for further career opportunities as the loud marketing and the quiet buzz of the small literary world; and in this world, Bronsky has been deemed the most exciting newcomer of the season. Dutifully, the jury in Klagenfurt praised her, for the most part; her text was found to be “very refreshing,” “rhetorically brilliant” and “a pleasure.”

A few days prior to her performance, the woman who calls herself Alina Bronsky is sitting in a beer garden near Frankfurt’s main station. Frowning, her face tense, she says: “It did not occur to me until after my nomination that I am not a good match for the Bachmann-Competition.” To score in Klagenfurt one has to write in a way that is “highly literary, very serious, very self-centered.” That is exactly what she does not have to offer. “I do popular fiction,” she says.

Bronsky comes off as shrewd and feisty. She wears leather lace-up boots with her flowered summer dress, and the expression on her face is always one of skeptical expectation. Alina Bronsky is not her real name. She uses this pen name because she wishes to separate her life as a writer from her private life. “If that really works out or not remains to be seen,” she says. “But at least I try.”

The newspaper Welt am Sonntag printed the information that she has three kids and a husband. Her publisher states that she dropped out of medical school to work as a copywriter and a journalist. Bronsky herself states that she did not have a rough childhood, nor did she grow up in a ghetto. Her father is a physicist, she says, her mother an astronomer. The family enjoyed “rather middle-class circumstances” in Marburg and Darmstadt. “I never intended to write a revealing roman à clef,” Bronsky says, “and my book is certainly not a commentary on social issues.”

Broken Glass Park tells the story of Sascha, seventeen years old, whose mother has been killed together with her partner in life. The novel, says Bronsky, should at best move, agitate, and carry the reader away like a good song, that is “wild and funny and entertaining, slightly crazy, yet rooted in life.”

The author speaks German without any trace of Russian accent. On the contrary, her pronunciation is clearly influenced by her youth spent in South Hesse. “At least,” Bronsky says, “my Hessian accent is not as bad as Andrea Ypsilanti’s[1].”   

She lets her heroine Sascha speak contemptuously of older Russian emigrants, who after they have lived in Germany for many years, do not want to use the language of their new home. Sascha’s aunt for example, after almost two years in Germany, “only knows about twenty German words: like bus, potato, butter, garbage, to cook, to wash, fuck you.”

Broken Glass Park is a brutal, merciless world, but at times also playful. Bronsky is convinced that a great, heartbreaking movie could be made from her novel, and she does not mind the fact that many critics frown upon this movie-like narration…She shrugs her shoulders and relaxes into a quick smile. “There are only two types of books. Boring books and good books.”


By Wolfgang Höbel

[1] Ypsilanti is a member of the Hessian parliament and has been head of the Hesse state Social Democrats since March 2003.

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