Spanning an arc from the 1960s in southern Germany to the 1980s art scene in Düsseldorf, Astrid Rosenfeld’s latest novel will have you in stitches of laughter, as you admire how effortlessly she writes.
Elsa ungeheuer is told from the perspective of a fat little boy called Karl Brauer (8), who lives in the Oberpfalz region with his handsome older brother, Lorenz. Karl and Lorenz live in the kind of village you might have seen on family holidays driving through southern Germany’s Oberpfalz in the early ‘70s – as I did – where the three people propped against the Imbiß table stopped to gaze as our Datsun Cherry chugged past, my sister and I peering through the rear windows, bare legs stuck with sweat to the plastic seats. We’d notice, as three heads turned in our direction, that one man had a huge goitre on his neck, the other’s teeth were mostly missing, and the woman’s clothes were shabby. If our parents stopped to get a bottle of water in one of these villages, we might stand for a while in the shade of a shop awning and hear a man talking with an artificial voice (we’d find out later it’s called an electrolarnyx). We thought he was a robot. This was a world that existed long before the omnipresence of McDonalds and Starbucks. The social services or health systems had yet to be invented. And this is the kind of setting that Astrid Rosenfeld chooses for the first part of Elsa ungeheuer. Except she’s not passing through in a car, she’s very much an insider. (more…)