cover image The New Sorrows of Young W.

The New Sorrows of Young W.

Ulrich Plenzdorf, trans. from the German by Romy Fursland. Pushkin Press (, $16 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-78227-094-2

Fursland's exciting new translation of Plenzdorf's breakout novel (which has been taught in classrooms throughout Germany since its publication in the early 1970s) begins after the body of 17-year-old star pupil Edgar Wibeau is discovered inside a condemned summer home in Berlin. Wibeau appears to have been electrocuted in a mysterious accident. Months earlier, Willi Linder, Edgar's best friend, received a series of tapes from Edgar in the mail. The recordings mention Edgar's crush on Charlie, a woman who's engaged to be married. Edgar's estranged father follows the tapes to trace his son's journey from Mittenberg to Berlin, speaks to Charlie, and then visits Edgar's last employer, Addi, in an attempt to uncover the cause of Edgar's death. Watching over his father's investigation, Edgar's spirit interjects to address readers and offer clarification. Edgar's voice is reminiscent of Holden Caulfield's, full of na%C3%AFvet%C3%A9 and and youthful arrogance, thoughtful and self-aware. Edgar appreciates jazz and film, and aspires to be an abstract painter. He is also well read and often references Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, quotes from which are employed to frame Edgar's story. The resulting intertextuality is more than aesthetic, not only advancing the narrative but also presenting a call and response between two celebrated German authors. Plenzdorf's novel is a touching and tragic coming-of-age tale that utilizes other pieces of art to examine life in East Germany. (Aug.)