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