Tuesday, 18 August 2009

City-Lit Berlin: Inka Parei, Die Schattenboxerin

Many of the books that have made their way into City-Lit Berlin were recommended to me by all sorts of people; some of them I knew and loved already; and this one I found trawling the net and fell in love.

Die Schattenboxerin (The Shadow-Boxing Woman - see link for sample, trans. Mike Mitchell) is Inka Parei's debut novel, published in 1999. She's since written one more, Was Dunkelheit war, and is working on Die Kältezentrale. So it's quality over quantity with Parei.

And what quality! Translated into eleven languages (although not English), this slim novel really captures the atmosphere of 90s Berlin. My copy is riddled with sticky notes, marking passages I wanted to include in the anthology. Only two of them made it in though. A young woman by the name of Hell goes quietly mad in a run-down tenement building in Mitte. Or perhaps she's quietly recovering. A crime novel-type plot starts out structuring the novel, but as we read on we're increasingly thrown off the tracks. Who is the girl's missing neighbour? Who is the strange young man looking for her too? Who is Hell (light), who is Dunkel (dark), and why the shadow-boxing?

I most enjoyed Hell's excursions around the city to familiar places, easily identifiable but slightly alienated and always beautifully melancholy: the post-industrial wastelands of Oberschöneweide, the abandoned pleasure park at Plänterwald, the quasi-ghost town of North Neukölln before the fall of the Wall. And in one breathtakingly well-written passage Hell dreams of a map of Berlin, revealing her own subconscious topography of the city. Here and throughout the book, Berlin is a sick city, a place that reflects the narrator's own traumas.

It's a crying shame that this book has never made it into English. It paints a picture of Berlin far from the clichés of crime writers and image brochures, but is much more than a city portrait. The complex novel with its compelling narrator really draws you in, and spits you out emotionally exhausted at the end of it all. One of my absolute favourites.


Thomas said...

Thanks for the tip. My German's not quite there yet, but I'll definitely seek out the French translation that came out in 2001. Cheers!

kjd said...

What a wise choice. Enjoy.