cover image Heroes Like Us

Heroes Like Us

Thomas Brussig, John Brussig. Farrar Straus Giroux, $23 (262pp) ISBN 978-0-374-16983-1

Imagine Alexander Portnoy reborn as an East German police officer and you'll have some idea of the amusing but ultimately disappointing satirical novel from Brussig. Beset by adolescent lust, Klaus Uhltzsch (his last name is as unpronounceable in German as in English) rebels inwardly against his mother, a hygiene inspector, and his disdainful, Stasi-connected father, indulging in cycles of orgiastic imaginings and guilt--all of which he relives during a confessional interview conducted by an offstage New York Times reporter. To American readers, who have seen this routine endlessly repeated since Portnoy first stretched himself out on a psychiatrist's couch, the sex (with the corollary themes of Mother-as-Bitch and Dad-as-Monster) comes as something less than a shock, although it does provide Brussig with a pretext for a few amusing riffs. Just as his adolescent angst begins to cloy, the novel takes a political turn, when Klaus joins the Stasi himself. Brussig portrays the secret police at the end of the 1980s as a bunch of pretzel-chewing morons (the tragedies of postwar Germany replayed as Hogan's Heroes). But Brussig undermines his satire by putting into Klaus's mouth various editorial opinions, (e.g., a lengthy attack on the writer Christa Wolf). Klaus's transformation into a porno star after he single-handedly topples the Berlin Wall rounds out this political farce with predictable and slightly wearisome, silliness. (Nov.)