Is this the place? book review

The figure of the stranger who comes to a new place is a bit of a cliché in literature (and film, and TV for that matter). But it’s a useful device, allowing an author to describe somewhere as if seeing it for the first time, to explain and comment on the history of a place, and to highlight cultural differences and those little local quirks which long-term inhabitants slowly but surely come to think are the normal way of doing things.

Recently I’ve been reading novels by authors who themselves are (or were) newcomers to Berlin, just like their characters: Chloe Aridjis’s Book of Clouds * (whose main character Tatiana is Mexican),  Anna Winger’s This Must Be the Place, and I’m just about to start Ida Hattemer-Higgins’ The History of History. They are all debut novels, as it happens – coming to Berlin obviously inspires writers!

This must be the place brings together Hope, an American in Berlin, and voiceover artist Walter, who dubs Tom Cruise into German. Hope is traumatised after living through September 11 in New York shortly after losing her child, and only reluctantly agrees to follow her husband Dave to Berlin. Walter once worked at Disneyland – playing Prince Charming with “a little European authenticity” – and he dreams of returning to the US to kick-start his career again, with a little help from his friend Tom. They make an odd couple: Walter is increasingly infatuated with Hope, while she is oblivious to his intentions but keen to escape her isolation and increasingly reliant on her German guide to the strange city. Continue reading

(mis)heard on the radio

“Coming up on Huey Morgan’s show on 6 Music next week, Kurt Weill…”

Sadly not a rare instance of correct German pronunciation on the radio, but a reference to the (really rather different) singer-songwriter Kurt Vile. An easy mistake to make for a Germanist with half an ear on the radio, even if it would be stretching Huey’s eclectic output a bit.

mack the knife still from Pabst filmI’m a fan of the real Kurt Weill anyway – I have a habit of singing songs from Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera, which he wrote, along with dramatist Bertolt Brecht) to long-suffering students – and it got me thinking. Huey of the Fun Lovin’ Criminals, probably best known for the louche but catchy ‘Scooby Snacks’, in turn probably best known for its quote from stylised mobster movie Pulp Fiction – surely Huey would make a perfect Mack the Knife?!

Ends and beginnings

So, as semester draws to a close and my head starts to clear a bit, I’m thinking I should actually make use of this blog. I’ve done the important bits like find a suitable photo of Berlin (always the first thing I turn to), I’ve fiddled about with the theme until I’ve got one I like, and built the infrastructure. Now I just need to populate the various pages. Watch this space!