Summary and book reviews of The Valley of Unknowing by Philip Sington

The Valley of Unknowing

By Philip Sington

The Valley of Unknowing
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  • Hardcover: Dec 2012,
    304 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

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Book Summary

In the twilight years of Communist East Germany, Bruno Krug, author of a single world-famous novel written twenty years earlier, falls for Theresa Aden, a music student from the West. But Theresa has also caught the eye of a cocky young scriptwriter who delights in satirizing Krug's work.

Asked to appraise a mysterious manuscript, Bruno is disturbed to find that the author is none other than his rival. Disconcertingly, the book is good - very good. But there is hope for the older man: the unwelcome masterpiece is dangerously political. Krug decides that if his affair with Theresa is to prove more than a fling, he must employ a small deception. But in the Workers' and Peasants' State, knowing the deceiver from the deceived, the betrayer from the betrayed, isn't just difficult: it can be a matter of life and death.

This subtle, brilliantly plotted story will remind many readers of von Donnersmarck's Oscar-winning film The Lives of Others.

PART ONE 1

One November morning, while the schoolchildren outside were going through their gas mask drill, the telephone rang. It was my editor, Michael Schilling. I knew something was wrong right away.

'Are you coming in?' he said, referring to his dingy offices on the southern edge of the Altstadt.

There were certain times in the publishing cycle when coming in was something I did often. The trip from my decayed but roomy apartment in Blasewitz took no more than twenty minutes, and in summer especially I would combine it with a trip to the Hygiene Museum or a picnic in the Volkspark, with its ornamental lakes and decorous imperial woods. But this was not one of those times, because my last book had been three years ago and my next was intractably stalled. Something had happened, but Schilling wasn't going to tell me about it over the phone.

'I thought we could have a coffee somewhere,' he said. 'There's this new place off Wilsdrufferstrasse.&#...

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By creating a charming narcissist who has gotten himself into a troubling scrape, Philip Sington allows us an intimate and evolving portrait of life behind the Iron Curtain. Sington’s novel contemplates serious subjects, but the narrative is often light-hearted and funny.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

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Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Fans of Philip Kerr will appreciate the historical accuracy and intrigue of this Cold War–era literary thriller.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Atmospheric, poignant, witty, but mournful too, Sington's novel cleverly considers what might have been the back story to real-life tragedies.

The Times (UK)

Remarkable…Superbly anchored in place and time…[A] brilliant, evocative and accurate novel.

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Socialist Realism

The fictional character of Bruno Krug gained international fame with a literary blockbuster The Orphans of Neustadt, but when we meet him at the beginning of his story, he is busy writing simple stories - called the Factory Gate Fables - about life in Actually Existing Socialism. These stories represent typical literature in the U.S.S.R and Soviet-occupied countries in the mid-20th century that correspond with the theory of Socialist Realism. Socialist Realism extends to other art forms but was officially adopted by the Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934 and codified the state's expectations for writers. Socialist Realism demanded that authors create literature that depicted man's struggle towards socialist progress in pursuit of a better ...

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