from The Devil's Accountant
Coming of age novels are often described as turbulent or chaotic. The more reserved expressions describing the "formative years" have seemingly gone by the wayside with doilies, chastity and fair play. The list of novels, short stories and fictive memoirs that deal with the chaos of those awkward (another cliche word) years before adulthood are legion, and not all are equal.
Legion of course is not a flattering image to conjure when describing a sub-genre of fiction, but it is apropos. It is also important to recognize that though there are many of these stories there are few successful modern attempts. There is a nostalgia found in the reminiscent writings of aging writers that can lack profundity, just as there can be a dated sense of life in more earnestly written books from decades ago.
Think of Salinger, Twain or Dickens.
That is precisely what makes Alina Bronsky's Broken Glass Park both timely and important. Published way back in 2008 to wide acclaim in Germany, Broken Glass Park is just now making its way to the US via the conveyor belt of works in translation that is Europa Editions
. Europa has both impeccable taste and what apparently is a tireless work ethic. They're catalog is well worth a lengthy perusal.
In the case of Broken Glass Park the publisher had what amounted to a no-brainer to work with. It is a young author's first book, written with alarming narrative power and contains a heart-breaking tale that is sure to scratch even the most hardened of hearts.
Sacha Naimann is seventeen years old and extremely intelligent. She is devoted to her studies with a blinding sense of purpose. She is the eldest of three children, poor, Russian and living in an ethnic ghetto in Germany. Her stepfather is in prison for murdering her mother and the man who the mother had taken up with after him. Her entire life revolves around two furious engines. One is the motivation to excel and escape the life of the poor, alienated Russians in her housing development. The other is to violently kill her stepfather and avenge her mother.
Ah, not your ordinary coming of age novel. While many have described the book as dealing with "life on the fringe" or "life on the margins" I find these terms to be somewhat off mark, and well, cheaply convenient. Nor is there an element of "shock value" to the drugs and sex found in the book. These promiscuous scenes are rendered matter of fact, neither being particularly shocking or extraordinary in content or revelation.
What is extraordinary and what makes the book unique is the violence and anger that live inside of young Sacha. The violence of the "margins" is an external one. One you've read about and seen in books and movies, or perhaps have lived with yourself. The inward drive to slay your mother's murderer is hopefully not something you have experienced before.
It is precisely this dark nature that changes the book from merely being a rendering of the awkwardness of youth or the hardships of poverty. The book is about a talented young person whose growth has been twisted and perverted by the horror of their past. In some ways young Sacha has already outgrown her youth and in others she is cruelly atrophied, stunted and ill equipped to deal with life.
It is a book about life on the dark side of human emotion and perhaps what is most intrinsically evident in this wonderful debut novel is the fact that our darker motives are not as close to the margins as we would like to think.
Such dreadful realizations are what makes Broken Glass Park more than the sum of its parts.