Angelika Klüssendorf was born in 1958 in Ahrensburg, in the former East Germany. She lived in Leipzig from 1961 to 1985, when she moved to West Germany. Today she lives in Berlin. She has written three novels, three collections of stories as well as work for the theatre.
Featured Reading Group Title
Das Mädchen (The Girl) — shortlisted for the 2011 German Book Prize
When we first meet the girl, she’s throwing her own faeces from the window of her apartment — she and her little brother have been locked inside without a toilet for six days and something has to be done. The dwindling food and interminable boredom are a positive idyll though compared to when their mother returns.
The East German society the girl encounters outside of her home is generally indifferent, hostile, and incomprehensible — so much for socialistic solidarity. She’s an outcast at school, a thief, a sometimes-runaway, and she senses that she doesn’t belong. Books and days spent in movie theatres are her respite.
The girl is sent to a children’s home. She learns how to have relationships with her peers, develops interests and something like a sense of self. Sometimes she frightens the other teenagers with her angry outbursts, at times she wins their respect with her self-reliance. Though it would be difficult to call the girl’s story an optimistic one, it is certainly one of survival.
The narration keeps close to her perspective and is inflected with her attitudes. Klüssendorf’s style is often called ‘laconic’, which both increases this detachment and prevents the novel from sounding moralising or lurid. Reviews of The Girl often took special note of its setting in the former East Germany, but the book’s roots are deep and cosmopolitan. The story of the wretched is common to many cultures.
First recommended by Deborah Langton
- Das Mädchen is featured in our German-language reading group for Spring/Summer 2012.
- Sample translated into English by Deborah Langton (available to download on New Books in German).
- If you’ve read the book or translated extract, let us know what you think by commenting below.