23 October 08 | Chad W. Post

We’re a bit late with the news—I swear, the Book Fair will be my excuse for everything for the next three weeks at least—but Uwe Tellkamp’s Der Turm won this year’s German Book Prize. Hasn’t been a huge amount of interest from American or British publishers (surprise!) for this 1,000 page book. Michael Orthofer is one of (if not the) first American’s to review the novel giving it a solid B+:

Der Turm is set in Dresden, in the East Germany of the 1980s, then still the German Democratic Republic. The book covers the period right up to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, though it moves at varying speeds across these years, lingering over particular episodes and stretches, then leaping over longer periods. [. . .]

Tellkamp offers a vast survey of East German life, even as he keeps it within relatively limited areas: school, the workplace (the hospital and the publishing house), army life. For the most part, those whose lives are described are fairly well-to-do — if not financially particularly well-off, at least relatively secure in their places, and certainly comfortable (even as that occasionally proves illusory). True, occasionally strangers are assigned a portion of their living spaces, as lines are redrawn in the houses and officialdom literally encroaches on their lives further, but most can get by relatively comfortably. Tellkamp does, however, pointedly describe the lives of the truly privileged, the nation’s favoured sons, which some of the others catch a glimpse of — an entirely different world. [. . .]

Yes, in many respects Der Turm is a glorious epic of that sad last decade of East German history, with some remarkable patches of writing and some very fine scenes. Yet it feels incomplete as a history, the pendulum swinging too far and spitefully back in a book that drips with contempt and feels too personal in its reckoning with an entire nation and system.


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