Alina Bronsky's Broken Glass Park is one of the most thought-provoking works of literature I've read in a long time, and with her remarkable ability to communicate emotion with precision and intent, Bronsky creates just that - literature. From the very beginning she establishes her protagonist, Sascha Naimann, as a complex and headstrong seventeen-year-old who is forced to cope with the recent murder of her mother at the hand of her stepfather Vadim. After her mother's death, Sascha takes on the responsibility of protecting her younger brother and sister (because no one else could possibly be up to the challenge, not even their new guardian Maria), and she vows to do two things: kill her stepfather and write the story of her mother's life. ("I already have a title," she claims. "The Story of an Idiotic Redheaded Woman Who Would Still Be Alive If Only She Had Listened to Her Smart Oldest Daughter. Or maybe that's more of a subtitle.")
These goals occupy her thoughts and help establish Sascha as powerful and invincible in her own mind. (Bronsky's use of first person narration gives readers the benefit of dramatic irony; we can see things about Sascha that she can't see herself). She is defensive and tough, if not a little intimidating to the other characters she interacts with, including Felix, the boy she loses her virginity to. ("Let's do it," she tells him, "Just don't grunt too much.") However, Bronsky complicates Sascha's world with the inescapable reality that she is a Russian immigrant in Germany, living in a ghetto called "The Emerald," a place where Sascha claims people don't have dreams, or if they do, they are so "pathetic" that if she were in their position, she'd "rather not have any". Her words are strong enough that, at times, she convinces even herself that she is unaffected by her surroundings, but then a memory of her mother will flutter out of her like a fallen flower petal, and she is reminded all over again that she is not impervious to pain.
As the story unfolds, Sascha only seems to let her guard down around her little brother Anton and Volker, a forty-something newspaper editor that she forcefully befriends. There are moments of great tenderness between Sascha and her little brother, even when planning something as dark as murder:
'There's a thousand ways I could do it,' I told him. 'I could poison him, suffocate him, strangle him, stab him, push him off a balcony, run him over in a car.'
'You don't have a car,' said my brother Anton - and he was right.
'I can't get at him at the moment anyway,' I said. 'You know he's still in prison. He'll be there for years.'
'Is that how long it's going to take?' said Anton.
'Yeah," I said, "but it's better that way - I'll have plenty of time to plan it out. It's not that easy to kill somebody when you've never done it before, you know.'
'It'll be easier the second time around,' said Anton like an expert.
'I just want to pull it off this one time,' I said. 'I don't want to make a hobby out of it.'
Despite her repeated declaration that she hates men, Sascha feels the complexity of her emotions, her desire for and fear of being vulnerable, which adds to a dream-like haze that lingers over her, and ultimately causes her to act.
Throughout the entire novel, there are no wasted words in Bronsky's writing and her dialogue is both poignant and raw. I am so delighted that this book was translated into English (from the German) and with such a strong debut, I'm looking forward to what Alina Bronsky comes up with next.
This review is from the May 5, 2010 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.
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