cover image The Short End of the Sonnenallee

The Short End of the Sonnenallee

Thomas Brussig, trans. from the German by Jonathan Franzen and Jenny Watson. Picador, $16 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-250-87901-1

Brussig (Heroes Like Us) offers a delicious slice of life in 1980s East Berlin. Micha Kuppisch lives in the shadow of the Berlin Wall during his teen years, forever taunted by this view of freedom and abundance in the West. He spends his days getting into trouble with a crew of friends by hunting down illegal bootlegs of Western music, posing as starving orphans for West German tourists, and taking dance lessons with the goal of meeting girls. The events unfold in anecdotal chapters, and while Micha’s world might be objectively terrifying, his stories are anything but. His friends’ greatest quarry is Exile on Main Street, but every time Micha’s friend gets a lead on a copy, it ends up going to someone else. In a miserable and hilarious turn, Micha tries to fetch a letter he believes is from his crush, Miriam, which has been blown away into the “death strip” just beneath the Wall before he has a chance to open it. Comedy, which comes through perfectly in the sharp translation, is essential to Brussig’s project as he subverts the dread and paranoia of East German life by portraying a small world with love, tenderness, and humor hidden within it. There’s a lot to love in this flipping of the Cold War script. (Apr.)