People are stuck in the cogs of a monstrous city in Reinhard Jirgl's superb novel. In a rush of images, he evokes Berlin as the meeting point of two men who have been ground down by our era.
Berlin in 2002: a giant city which is always changing and is stronger than the people who live in it. Two men's lives have reached turning points. One, the son of a farmer from the Hanover Wendland, is a journalist in Hamburg and has just divorced. Wishing to escape his past, he travels to Berlin to meet the woman he loves. The other man had been a border guard for the East German regime at Frankfurt Oder, which borders Poland. He continued to work as a border guard for the new, unified Germany, but his wife died of cancer. Polish gangs work at the border, smuggling people across. He falls for a young woman from the Ukraine and helps her and her brother to reach Berlin illegally. Reinhard Jirgl comes closer to our present than he has ever before in this overwhelming new novel. The city of Berlin is both the stage and a character as important as the two protagonists – the city as a consuming monster and as machinery which puts small people through the mangle before curing them. Jirgl succeeds in continuing the twentieth century's great tradition of metropolitan novels through his powerful writing.
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