"Too Reader Friendly for the Literary Supplements"
The literary scene has a new “Frauleinwunder.” The Russian-German Alina Bronsky is turning the heads of editors and critics alike.
Preparations for the annual Ingeborg-Bachmann Competition resemble a group of teenagers getting ready for prom night. The seven jurors who give their personal nominations for the ritual reading fight over the candidate who has the best prospects (which far too often translates into the best-looking female candidate). But no matter how fast you are at sussing out the best and brightest of literary prospects, there’s always someone else who’s faster, securing him or herself the right to champion the one deemed “hot property” that year. Latecomers are left out in the cold. Usually, tardy jurors exact vengeance by awarding the EUR25,000 prize not to the favorite, the “chosen one,” but to a dark horse, an outsider.
This year the Russian-German Alina Bronsky, born in 1978, was courted most greedily. Ijoma Mangold, Süddeutsche Zeitung’s literary hound, was the quickest to pick up on the industry buzz and was thus entitled to voice the official invitation to the new “Frauleinwunder.” When Bronsky finally read from her debut novel at the beginning of the “Days of German Language Literature” in June, she was of course spectacularly drawn and quartered. Juror Ursula März called the text annoying and superfluous – mind you , this is the very same text that only a few weeks earlier she so desperately wanted to champion herself.
Broken Glass Park in Klagenfurt Ingeborg-Bachmann Competition – it was misguided from the start. Every year seven literary critics gather in a stuffy hall to discuss very serious literature. And that is exactly the kind of literature that Alina Bronsky refuses to provide. Indeed, she might be rather pleased by the assessment of aesthetic theorist André Vladimir Heinz: “The text serves the reader too much to his taste. It perturbed me,” the juror sighed.
That Bronsky’s novel achieves precisely this—breathing life into the dead souls of literature scholars—speaks volumes in its favor. When she started writing, there was one thing Bronsky didn’t want to be: boring. She wanted her stories to be as powerfully moving as a good rock song: “Wild and funny and entertaining, slightly crazy, yet rooted in life.” As such, what she does could be called pop-literature; but it has nothing in common that literature of narcissistic self-contemplation that was quite successful under this label a few years ago.
Broken Glass Park tells the story of 17-year-old Sascha, who hails from Moscow but has landed in a high-rise ghetto in Germany. Her hated stepfather has shot her mother and her new boyfriend and is serving time for the double homicide. Sascha has to take care not only of herself but also of two younger half-siblings. She has two dreams left: to write a book about her mother so that her siblings will know that she was a hero of everyday life; and to kill Vadim, her mother’s murderer, with her own hands.
It is, of course, a tough book. But it is also a touching, and in its best passages melancholy, story of a 17-year-old who has to grow up much too fast. Descriptions of the hardships of Sascha’s life and her thirst for revenge make up its strongest passages; it appears artificial, however, when Bronsky injects her heroine into a love triangle involving a journalist and his son. Because she wants to impress with all means, she makes Sascha’s story too gaudy. The story doesn’t need such gloss.
Hype about migratory background...
The hype about the new talent with an immigrant background has been massive since her publisher sent out review copies of the novel early in the year and spread the story of her discovery. Bronsky sent the manuscript unsolicited to Cologne, the legend goes, because she had read an article about Kiepenheuer und Witsch editor Olaf Petersenn in a newspaper. Only a week later, Petersenn offered her a contract, and Kiepenheuer und Witsch featured the book as the season’s top title.
She is, no doubt, a new great talent in the literary scene that, like the music industry, constantly craves new faces. At LitCologne, the big Cologne spring literary festival, Bronsky was accordingly idolized. “She could be booked as a star for years to come,” enthused the music critic Joachim Lottmann in Welt am Sonntag.
By Jobst-Ulrich Brand