Simple Stories: A Novel from the East German Provinces

Overview

From the author of 33 Moments of Happiness, a first novel about the people in a deadbeat little town in East Germany that makes us understand, as nothing else, what life has been like since the fall of the Berlin Wall." "At first, there appears to be nothing so unusual about what happens to Renate and Martin, Barbara and Frank, Raffael and Jenny, as they look for love, for jobs, for some means, honest or devious, of understanding or forgetting the past. And yet, what is gradually revealed in the minutiae of their...
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Simple Stories: A Novel from the East German Provinces

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Overview

From the author of 33 Moments of Happiness, a first novel about the people in a deadbeat little town in East Germany that makes us understand, as nothing else, what life has been like since the fall of the Berlin Wall." "At first, there appears to be nothing so unusual about what happens to Renate and Martin, Barbara and Frank, Raffael and Jenny, as they look for love, for jobs, for some means, honest or devious, of understanding or forgetting the past. And yet, what is gradually revealed in the minutiae of their everyday experiences is the collapse of an entire world and the dramatic fault line that has run through so many East German lives since 1990.
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Editorial Reviews

Noel Murray
German writer Ingo Schulze's first collection of short stories, 3 Moments Of Happiness, explored the crannies of post-Cold War St. Petersburg. For the follow-up, Simple Stories, he returns to his own hometown of Altenburg, a small community located in the former East Germany. The 29 anecdotal tales in Simple Stories range from the years immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall through the end of the decade, as the citizens of Altenburg deal with the particulars of their newfound freedom. Schulze alternates between the first person and the third person in elliptical narratives that have the quality of the overheard, with incidents and characters dropped seemingly at random, as if the person telling the story expects that the reader already knows the rough outline and now is getting only the detail. For the reader, who lacks that valuable outline, Simple Stories can be challenging and confusing. But as the brief chapters pass by, Schulze's mosaic becomes clearer, as does the reason this collection has been dubbed "a novel." He frequently brings back key characters in later chapters as a means of clarifying earlier events: The psychiatrist met in chapter five, for example, turns out to have been responsible for the death of the wife of the unemployed art historian met in chapter four--though Schulze doesn't reveal that the wife has died until chapter ten, at which point it's revealed that the art historian's son is living with his journalist aunt, met in chapter three. The web of these two dozen or so characters grows tighter and, like filmmaker Robert Altman, Schulze weaves in and out of lives, using a prose style that's halfway between Raymond Carver and Dubliners-era James Joyce. The purpose of all this episodic rambling is to show how a city recovers from decades of living under heavy government, and in the early stories, characters make tentative steps across borders, still identifying their neighbors by whether they were Party leaders or revolutionary grumblers. By the final stories, some Altenburgers have died, while others have moved away from their hometown, many of them abandoning long-term romantic relationships for something new. Throughout this pointillist collection, Schulze shows how political oppression can be replaced by guilt and regret, and how, just as his neighbors learned to get by during the chill of the Cold War, they can also get by in the sometimes sweltering heat of a new day.
3 Noel Murray
From The Critics
Aside from a whiff of Brecht, Mr. Schulze's disconnections, ellipses and alienations, sometimes comic, suggest a Raymond Carver or a Frederick Barthelme: the bad air of the contemporary world and the odd deformations that it produces. Here the pollutant -- the mark left by the cold war and its aftermath upon a divided Germany -- is more evident. The stories make up in necessity where they may fall a little short (only a little) of the artfulness of these masters.
Richard Eder
The New York Times
Aside from a whiff of Brecht, Mr. Schulze's disconnections, ellipses and alienations, sometimes comic, suggest a Raymond Carver or a Frederick Barthelme: the bad air of the contemporary world and the odd deformations that it produces. Here the pollutant -- the mark left by the cold war and its aftermath upon a divided Germany -- is more evident. The stories make up in necessity where they may fall a little short (only a little) of the artfulness of these masters.
Richard Eder
NY Times Sunday Book Review
The originality of this wonderful novel derives in good part from Ingo Schulze's gift for gleeful pastiche...It's a brilliant narrative strategy for capturing a time of giddy terror and -- much more rarely -- exhilaration...
Suzanne Ruta
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Set in Altenburg, in the former East Germany, Schulze's 33 Moments of Happiness rich and demanding novel comprises a series of seemingly banal but interlocked stories concerning a group of Altenburg B rger, giving the reader an Ossi worm's-eye panorama of the years since the fall of the Wall. The book begins with school principal and loyal Communist "Red" Meurer's trip to Italy in 1990, where he has a chance encounter with a teacher he fired in 1978, accusing him of fostering unpopular politics in his classroom. Witnessing the emotional destruction of the teacher, who was "rehabilitated" in a coal mine, precipitates Meurer's psychological decline. In the meantime, Meurer's stepson, Martin, an art history student, is struggling to make it in the new capitalist order as a salesman. Then Martin's wife, Andrea, forced to learn to ride a bicycle after Martin has a run of bad luck, is found one day by the side of the road with her neck broken, apparently the victim of a hit-and-run driver. That same day, Dr. Barbara Holitzschek, the wife of an up-and-coming local politician, arrives at a meeting in a tremulous state because she has hit a "badger" with her car. Gradually pieces fall together: the "badger" might have been Andrea, and the Holitzscheks are probably being blackmailed. Andrea's death is merely one thread in Schultz's intricate tapestry; he weaves in many more stories, from the points of view of multiple, interconnected narrators. Patrick, a photographer, gets lost looking for a party; Raffael, who runs a taxi business, has problems at work; Marianne Schubert, a secretary, witnesses a strange scene at her office. Schulze demands that the reader make many presumptuous leaps in connecting the tales, but the complex spirit of contemporary German history lives in his ambitious network of microcosmic intrigues. Jan. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Suzanne Ruta
The originality of this wonderful novel derives in good part from Ingo Schulze's gift for gleeful pastiche...It's a brilliant narrative strategy for capturing a time of giddy terror and -- much more rarely -- exhilaration...
Suzanne Ruta
Eder
Aside from a whiff of Brecht, Mr. Schulze's disconnections, ellipses and alienations, sometimes comic, suggest a Raymond Carver or a Frederick Barthelme: the bad air of the contemporary world and the odd deformations that it produces. Here the pollutant -- the mark left by the cold war and its aftermath upon a divided Germany -- is more evident. The stories make up in necessity where they may fall a little short (only a little) of the artfulness of these masters.
The New York Times
From the Publisher
“Ingo Schulze is our new epic storyteller.” —Günter Grass, Nobel Prize-winning author of The Tin Drum

"[Simple Stories] explores the aftermath of living in what was perhaps the most spied-on society in history. . . . with snapshots of the confusion, insecurity and sorrow that accompany freedom." –Chicago Tribune

“Tremendously rewarding. . . . Schulze creates a precarious and affectionate backdrop against which his heroes struggle to live out their simple stories.” –Los Angeles Times

“Wonderful…. Schulze is a baroquely expansive comic.”–The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375405419
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/25/2000
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Meet the Author

Ingo Schulze lives in Dresden, Germany
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Read an Excerpt



Prize-winning German writer Ingo Schulze's first novel, Simple Stories, is a marvel of storytelling and craft. Set in the East German town of Altenburg after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it deftly leaps among an array of confused characters caught in the crossroads of their country’s history: a lovelorn waitress who falls for a visiting West German investor; an art historian turned traveling salesman; a former Communist official plagued by his past; an unsuccessful writer who asks his neighbor to break his leg so that he can continue to live on welfare.
Schulze skillfully intercuts an assortment of moving and comic vignettes about seemingly unconnected people, gradually linking them into an exhilarating whole of tidal unity and emotional force, until we see that all the time we have been reading a novel in glittering fragments, spun by a master. With a piercing eye for detail and a magical ear for dialogue, Schulze portrays the tragi-comedy of ordinary people caught up in the last great historical upheaval of the century.



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