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Heroes Like Us


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If this novel is as funny in the original (it was a best seller in Germany), it's pretty funny, and bravo to translator Brownjohn. It's the story of Klaus Uhlzscht, who even as a child sees himself destined to greatness, even a Nobel prize‘all evidence to the contrary. It's about coming of age, his moribund, mysterious father, overly-hygienic mother, summer camp, apprenticeship in the Stasi, but most of all it's about his preoccupation with his (euphemism alert!) member‘its uses and abuses, ascensions and dimensions, its promises and purposes. The whole is in the form of an interview with a New York Times reporter, the cause of the interview being Klaus's instrumentality in the fall of the Berlin Wall (see Nobel prize, above), through demonstration of his (euphemism alert!) member, grown through surgical error to gigantic proportion, to awed border guards. Book and characters are funny, but it's the diction (and Brussig would appreciate the two puns above), as in Nabokov, that is hilarious. Recommended but far out. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/97.]‘Robert E. Brown, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, N.Y.

Imagine Alexander Portnoy reborn as an East German police officer and you'll have some idea of the amusing but ultimately disappointing satirical novel from Brussig. Beset by adolescent lust, Klaus Uhltzsch (his last name is as unpronounceable in German as in English) rebels inwardly against his mother, a hygiene inspector, and his disdainful, Stasi-connected father, indulging in cycles of orgiastic imaginings and guilt‘all of which he relives during a confessional interview conducted by an offstage New York Times reporter. To American readers, who have seen this routine endlessly repeated since Portnoy first stretched himself out on a psychiatrist's couch, the sex (with the corollary themes of Mother-as-Bitch and Dad-as-Monster) comes as something less than a shock, although it does provide Brussig with a pretext for a few amusing riffs. Just as his adolescent angst begins to cloy, the novel takes a political turn, when Klaus joins the Stasi himself. Brussig portrays the secret police at the end of the 1980s as a bunch of pretzel-chewing morons (the tragedies of postwar Germany replayed as Hogan's Heroes). But Brussig undermines his satire by putting into Klaus's mouth various editorial opinions, (e.g., a lengthy attack on the writer Christa Wolf). Klaus's transformation into a porno star after he single-handedly topples the Berlin Wall rounds out this political farce with predictable and slightly wearisome, silliness. (Nov.)

"The darkly ribald, satirical tale Klaus tells in Heroes Like Us marks the strong debut of an important new voice in the postcommunist literary world." - Publishers Weekly

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