cover image Tante Eva

Tante Eva

Paula Bomer. Soho, $26 (254p) ISBN 978-1-64129-222-1

Bomer (Inside Madeleine) takes a downbeat look at life in Germany shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in this underwhelming outing. Widow Eva Hermann, a retired nurse, lives in a rundown section of what was once East Berlin, where she spends her days listening to American jazz and blues and looking forward to her next sleeping pill or drink. Eva is overjoyed to hear that her American niece, Maggie, who has just graduated from Boston University, will be arriving for a visit. Eva has always regarded the idealistic Maggie as her true daughter, rather than her actual daughter, Elena, an artist who lives on beer and cigarettes and whose arrested development “confound[s]” Eva. Her excitement over Maggie is mitigated somewhat by the presence of Maggie’s older boyfriend, Tom, a pale, sweaty painter. Nevertheless, Eva introduces the couple to her married lover, Hansi, a former Stasi agent. Maggie turns out to be harboring a secret that will eventually overturn everything Eva thought she understood, including her perception of Elena. Eva’s Berlin is well-delineated, though the aggressively edgy descriptions of skinheads, drug addicts, dying neighbors, missing teenage girls, and bad smells can feel forced, and the author’s tendency to employ untranslated German dialogue without context feels off. In the end, this unrelievedly grim novel reads like 40 miles of dreary Autobahn. (May)