THE WEATHER IN BERLIN
A tinted review in adult Forecasts indicates a book that's of exceptional importance to our readers, but hasn't received a starred or boxed review.
Just's provocative novels (Echo House, etc.) combine sharp journalistic observation with an unsentimental view of human behavior, expressed in economical prose taut with ironic implications. His specialty is the depiction of men adrift in difficult times, generally in cultures that conspire to drain them of dignity and decency. Here, the central character is a 64-year-old filmmaker, Dixon Greenwood, whose first movie, filmed in Germany in the late 1960s, was acclaimed as an antiwar classic. But Greenwood has endured a 15-year dry spell, and is convinced that he has lost his audience and his creative gifts. In 1999, he returns to dreary wintertime Berlin on a fellowship. Many of the Germans he meets are bitterly mired in the past, disillusioned with the politics of the left and the right and resentful of America's prosperity. Dix feels alienated, weary, displaced—until two events occur. He agrees to direct the climactic episode of Germany's most popular TV drama, Wannsee 1899, a nostalgic evocation of the glory days of old Prussia. Then a significant figure from his past reappears. While Just's insights into the modern world are trenchant, his characters too often declaim their opinions in sometimes tendentious and didactic speeches. Yet characters who spout jingoism, racism and self-pity are countered by more moderate voices that may promise a changed national psyche. And the intelligence that suffuses the narrative creates a compelling dynamic in which the historical forces of the 20th century are embodied in human terms. Author tour. (June 3)