She flees, dreams of revenge and is cleverer than everyone else. In the debut novel of Russian-German author Bronsky, a young woman fights her way through life with wit and a whole lot of anger on the inside.
"Sometimes I think I'm the only one in our neighborhood with any worthwhile dreams. I have two, and there's no reason to be ashamed of either one. I want to kill Vadim. And I want to write a book about my mother."
It's with a flippant tone, in an almost off-handed manner, that Sasha shares her murder plans, The 17-year-old lives in a high-rise housing complex on the edge of Frankfurt. Most of the inhabitants are, like her, Russian immigrants, and they call their Russian ghetto "Broken Glass Park." They can clearly see the city skyline of the big city from where they live, but it's a view of a place where they do not belong.
And Sascha least of all. Her mother is dead, and her father is in jail because of it, having murdered her and her new boyfriend in front of his children. Now the 17-year-old thinks up ways to make the hated Vadim pay for his crime. Poison him? Shoot him? Beat him to death?
But this impertinent brat is in no way a Russian angel of vengeance. She is much more a overwhelmed older sister who has to take care of her two younger siblings. Her callousness is a shield to protect her innermost feelings.
She doesn't belong anywhere. The testosterone-charged machos in the housing complex don't accept her. Neither do the rich upstarts at her private catholic high school, which she landed at thanks to her exceptional intellectual gifts. Disdain for everything and everybody flashes out from her cleverness.
Fear the weak
The Russian-German author Alina Bronsky delivers a stormy debut with Broken Glass Park, consciously playing with cliches along the way. Naturally, there are nasty Russian gangs and thick-skulled neo-Nazis in the book. And naturally vodka flows by the liter. Nonetheless, her characters do not become caricatures.
That's primarily due to her raw, authentic tone. It's the typical "Bronsky beat" that the author taps into in her first novel and that can be felt in all of her later books.
"Be careful of people who feel weak, I think. Because it’s possible that one day they’ll want to feel strong and you’ll never recover from it."
Following a fight with teenage hooligans, Sascha feels something like fear for the first time. It's a warning signal! Fearlessness, she notes, can become your downfall, just like it once was for her mother. She never took her alcoholic husband seriously, until he shot her while drunk.
For Bronsky, it's not about pity or demanding social justice. It's about anger. Sometimes, the only chance to escape life's dreariness lies within this fury.
Alina Bronsky: Broken Glass Garden, Europa Editions, (German title: Scherbenpark, 2008). English translation: Tim Mohr.
Alina Bronsky was born in present-day Yekaterinburg, Russia in 1978. She emigrated to Germany with her family in the early 1990s and spent her youth in Marburg and Darmstadt. Today, she lives with her husband, actor Ulrich Noethen, and four children in Berlin. Broken Glass Park received multiple book award nominations. The novel was turned into a play and a movie.