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Excerpt from Slumberland by Paul Beatty, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Slumberland

A Novel

by Paul Beatty

Slumberland by Paul Beatty X
Slumberland by Paul Beatty
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2008, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2009, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Amy Reading
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About this Book

Print Excerpt


None of the Germanic tribes had a sun god. Pagan as philosophy professors, the Visigoths, the Franks, and the Vandals knew better than to believe in something they couldn’t see. Ra, Helios, Huitzilopochtli—my name for the sun is Charlie. I weave in and out of pedestrians imagining that two thousand years ago some Hun idler shod not in Birkenstocks but straw sandals trod the same path looking for solar spoor in these nowconcrete wilds. But I catch only glimpses of the yellow deity, the corona shimmering through the leaves of the tree blossoms in Tiergarten Park, the herbalescent shampoo sheen in a tall blonde’s hippie-straight locks, maybe a reflection in a skyscraper’s glacial façade. My sightings are never more than partial eclipses; castle parapet or church steeple, something is always in the way.

Knowing the Egyptians haven’t done anything of note in three thousand years, the Berlin civic engineers must have taken a cue from the ancient ones. Giza’s men of science built Cheops’s pyramids to align with the celestial pole, and so too did Berlin’s urban planners, establishing a zoning code that seemingly stipulates every structure, be it building, billboard, street lamp, or bird’s nest, be erected to such a height or in such manner as to prevent any person of normal stature standing at any point within the city limits from having a clear and unobstructed view of the sun.

I always conveniently abandon the search at Winterfeldtplatz, the bells of Saint Matthias ringing in the dusk and signaling an end to the hunt.The sky darkens.The acrid smell of charred pita bread and shawarma lingers in the air. An old man rides a creaky two-speed. A woman curses her uncooperative daughter. The lights inside the Slumberland bar flicker on. In all the time I’ve lived here I’ve seen one sunset. And if it hadn’t been for the reunification of Germany it wouldn’t be that many.

The buzzer goes off but before I start to climb out the receptionist resets the tanning-bed timer for fifteen more minutes, restarts my song, and beckons me to lie back down. Retaking her seat, she listens to the music, one corner of her mouth raised in a deeply impressed smile. Suddenly that corner lowers into a pensive frown. Her fingers stop dancing. Her feet stop tapping. She wants to know why.Why I tan.Why I came to Germany. I tell her it will take more than fifteen minutes to answer that question. It will take the two of us having one of those good horizontal relationships, the kind that the day-to-day verticality of dating, jogging, and window-shopping eventually destroys after two years. By the time I got to the point where I mailed her postcards with accidental haikus scribbled hastily on their backs . . .

In bed we cool. Kiss.
Soon as my feet hit the floor -
The shit go haywire.

. . . her question would remain unanswered, then I’ll call her whining, “I sent you a postcard, please don’t read it.” She’d want to break up with me, but wouldn’t go through with it because she still hadn’t found out why.

She shifts her plump behind in the chair. The chair squeaks. My sphincter tightens. Other than that I don’t move. To move would mess up the comfort level, and I haven’t been this comfortable in years.

On our way out of the Electric Beach my freshly irradiated face quickly loses its battle against the brick-cold night. Always a clean city, on winter nights Berlin is especially antiseptic. Often, I swear, there’s a hint of ammonia in the air. This is not the hermetic sterility of a private Swiss hospital but the damp Mop & Glo slickness of a late-night supermarket aisle that leaves me wondering what historical spills have just been tidied up.

The ubiquitous commemorative plaques, placed with the utmost care as to be somehow noticeable yet unobtrusive, call out these disasters like weary graveyard shift cashiers. We have a holocaust in aisle two. Broken shop glass in aisle five. Milli Vanilli in frozen foods. These metallic Post-it notes aren’t religious quotes and self-help affirmations like those pasted onto bathroom mirrors and refrigerator doors, but they are reminders to never forget, moral demarcations welded onto pillars, embedded into sidewalks, etched into granite walls, and hopefully burnished onto our minds. WAY BACK WAY BACK WHEN, AND PROBABLY TOMORROW, IN THE EXACT PLACE WHERE YOU NOW STAND, SOMETHING HAPPENED. WHATEVER HAPPENED, AT LEAST ONE PERSON GAVE A FUCK, AND AT LEAST ONE PERSON DIDN’T. WHICH ONE WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN? WHICH ONE WILL YOU BE?WHEN, AND PROBABLY TOMORROW, IN THE EXACT PLACE WHERE YOU NOW STAND, SOMETHING HAPPENED. WHATEVER HAPPENED, AT LEAST ONE PERSON GAVE A FUCK, AND AT LEAST ONE PERSON DIDN’T. WHICH ONE WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN? WHICH ONE WILL YOU BE?

Excerpted from Slumberland by Paul Beatty Copyright © 2006 by Paul Beatty. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury USA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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