Ingo Schulze: Simple Storys (Simple Stories)
Hailed in Germany as the long-awaited reunification novel, the novel that tells it how it is in post-Communism East Germany (or, as Schulze calls it, the East German province), Schulze’s stories are deceptively simple. His style is low-key, voice-of-the-people, influenced, to a certain degree, by his buddy Richard Ford. The novel or, rather, twenty-seven linked stories, set in the town of Altenburg, focuses on the life of ordinary people who have lived through communism and are now part of a unified Germany. Things, of course, have changed but the changes are not big ticket items but, generally, rather small. The currency has changed, people slip more English words into their conversation and, in the first story, they can now freely travel to Italy.
But, of course, this is not what Schulze is about. In his deadpan, hard-boiled, emotionless style, he casually tells the story of the travelling American salesman who rapes a waitress who thinks, after the rape, that they are going to get married and have a family but the American disappears and she ends up working on a cross-Channel ferry. Most of them are far less dramatic – the Japanese tourist (who is probably Korean) who wants help getting to Mecklenburg (or is it Frankfurt?) and the sculptor who has come into a good inheritance so doesn’t need to work and so on. But, behind every story, there is a sense, skilfully built up during the course of the book, that things are not quite right, that, yes, things have improved but, in some sense, they may also have got worse. This is done by random deaths, human but also animal (e.g. a badger), random violence and the general sense of alienation. In short, as Schulze tells us, in his subtle and simple way, East is not (at least yet) West.
First published 1998 by Berlin Verlag
First published in English in 2000 by Knopf