A powerful memoir first published 35 years ago in Germany (a U.S. edition and film adaptation soon followed) shows no sign of tarnish in Cartwright’s mesmerizing and urgent new translation. The story of Christiane F., a heroin-addicted teenager living in 1970s Berlin, begins with her family’s move from the country to a fractured and confusing existence in the Berlin projects. Christiane’s bleak circumstances (her father is physically abusive, her mother permissive and absent, her teachers cold and uncaring) lead the 12-year-old to experiment with drugs. She begins with pot and alcohol—rapidly moving on to pills, acid, and finally heroin—finding excitement and intense companionship with a group of David Bowie–worshipping teenagers who populate the city’s underground club scene. Eventually, Christiane resorts to working alongside her boyfriend as a prostitute at the Bahnhof Zoo train station to support her addiction.
Chapters written from the perspective of Christiane’s mother and other adult figures can sometimes disrupt the hypnotic effect of Christiane’s narrative, but they also offer broader insight into a vulnerable population under the influence of a devastating new drug. Christiane’s uninhibited voice crackles with cynicism over the hypocrisy and arbitrary rules she observes around her (“I hated it when people talked like they also wanted to save me. I got real marriage proposals. And all the while they knew full well that they were only taking advantage of our misery, the misery of the addicts, to satisfy their own desires”), as she documents the choices that bring her further into destitution and despair. Even in moments of utter depravity, Christiane remains sympathetic and wise, with a deeply embedded sense of morality. Although Christiane’s message to readers is, without a doubt, “Do not follow me,” she synthesizes moments of beauty and joy alongside those of horror, resulting in a deeply observant look at the search for love and meaning amid chaos. Ages 14–up. (Jan.)