Winner of the Leipzig Book Prize
Winner of the Friedrich Hölderlin Prize
Translated from German by Lucy Jones
Resi, a writer living with her artist husband, Sven, and 4 children is facing a crisis. In addition to having her closest friend withdraw her friendship, she has just been served an eviction notice by her landlord (also a former close friend) and she is raging! What has triggered such perfidy? In the first instance, her own. Resi has written an award-winning book, slamming the behaviours of the privileged property-owning middle-class – the class to which all her friends belong. They have taken umbrage and are now severing all ties.
“You abuse words”, says Friderike. “You use them to wipe the floor with people”.
Resi decides to write to her 14-year old daughter, Bea, to educate her in the way the world really works, to teach her that money matters, so that she doesn’t make the same naïve mistakes. She tells of her own childhood with a mother who couldn’t afford to change the hideous floor tiles on the kitchen floor, but made material sacrifices to send her daughter to a good school. Thus did Resi begin mixing with the middle classes. In those days the difference was not noticeable – her friends were all left-wing idealists, everyone was equal. Then came the day Resi was invited to meet her boyfriend’s parents, where the family entertained each other with their musical abilities. Resi who had received only a few recorder lessons couldn’t join in. She was again excluded when her school friends, including her boyfriend, went on a skiing trip. The class divide had a way of making itself visible despite the best of intentions.
Now that Resi is 40, that divide has widened. Resi tries to argue that’s because she has remained true to those youthful ideals, while her friends have reverted to type. Her friends would argue it is by her own choice. She hasn’t made the most of the opportunities that came her way. She could have married a wealthier man, instead of a cash-strapped artist. She could have chosen a better remunerated career for herself, and no-one forced her to have 4 children. Finally she could have accepted the loan that would have enabled her to live with her friends in the new apartment complex that they have built. But no, on principle, she chooses to stay in the rented flat and writes, while at her desk in the broom cupboard, a book slamming her friends for the choices they have made.
Now the question is whether Resi’s friends are indeed hypocrites (was the money really offered with the cynical motive that Resi attributes to it) or whether Resi is, in fact, vocalising regret, shame even, at her own choices? We only hear the story through Resi’s very colourful filter, and she admits to not being entirely reliable.
Families are a hotbed of neuroses, and the ruler of this particular hotbed, our nest, is me.
She’s also extremely candid and very, very funny, Disarmingly so at times.
We had Bea because we thought it would be wonderful to have children. Then Jack, so that Bea wouldn’t be an only child. Kieran, so that we didn’t seem like a typical family. And Lynn? You could call it hubris. Or cabin fever?
Daily life for a family with 4 kids is chaotic, the flat is cluttered, and Resi is frequently frazzled. Through lack of funds, her own kids are being excluded from school trips and holiday vacations as she once was. And now she has to worry about the roof over their heads. Where will she find alternative affordable accommodation? Their days in the centre of Berlin are numbered. They’re heading to the suburbs, and Resi worries that they’ll end up in Marzahn, an area with a less than salubrious reputation; the irony being, that living in a high rise is another way of finding higher ground.
I’ve enjoyed these reviews of the book so much that I ordered the German edition. Cannot resist a book about contemporary Berlin either.
I love that quote about families being a hotbed of neurosis!