Post-GDR fiction, essays and what white people can do about racism. Here are the books that should be on your list this month – and will help you beat that lockdown fatigue.
Thomas Grattan – The Recent East
It’s 1989 in upstate New York, and the Berlin Wall has just fallen. Beate, recently left by her husband, receives a letter saying she is entitled to take back the old family house in Kritzhagen, a rundown Baltic town where she had lived with her parents before fleeing the GDR. She packs up her children – idealistic Adela and gay, impulsive Michael – and makes the move. Thus begins The Recent East (FSG), a novel by American author Thomas Grattan. With tenderness and artistry, Grattan chronicles how the family navigates life in a town still reeling from state socialism and the Wende. While it sometimes shades into cliché, the post-Wall eastern setting offers a vivid backdrop for this touching family drama. Grattan cleverly taps that historical moment for all its symbolic value – the shifting loyalties, the exhilarating yet dangerous new freedoms, the difficulty of inheritance and the eternal question of what, and who, gets remembered.
Robert Walser – Little Snow Landscape
The rediscovery of Robert Walser, one of Berlin’s great modernists, goes on. Like many of us, Swiss-born Walser spent his best years here in the Hauptstadt. His work from 1906 to 1912 was already available in English as Berlin Stories; now we can read more from this master of short prose thanks to Little Snow Landscape (NYRB Classics), with essays and stories spanning 1905 to 1933. These diverse Prosastücke are united by Walser’s engrossing voice – a voice that, in Thomas Whalen’s masterful translation, somehow feels playful, rapturous and melancholy all at once. Walser is a genius of the miniature; he finds the universe revealed in the tiniest observations, from a tiny Swiss village to the bustling German capital. Particularly relatable is his fervent declaration that he’s moving to Berlin: “It’s necessary to act, to take risks! In Berlin, in the midst of the maelstrom and turmoil and all the unrest and excitement of cosmopolitan life, in the intense bustle and activity, I’ll find my peace.” Read this volume, double up with Berlin Stories, and look out for his biography when it’s published in May.
Emma Dabiri – What White People Can Do Next
Back to the present: The 2020 Black Lives Matter protests triggered a vigorous response from white people worldwide, eager to join in the fight against racism. How can that energy be turned into meaningful change? This is the topic of Emma Dabiri’s powerful book-length essay What White People Can Do Next (Penguin UK). Here Dabiri, an Irish-Nigerian academic and author, challenges conventional thinking about “anti-racism” and “allyship”, and stresses the importance of offering compelling counter-narratives to racist ideas. “I think we’ve nailed how to say what we don’t want,” she says, “but we find it much harder to articulate what we do want – let alone how to achieve it.” In a series of short chapters, Dabiri suggests practical steps while unveiling her radical vision of a coalition-based future, one informed by earlier thinkers like James Baldwin, Fred Morten and bell hooks. Not everyone will agree with everything (like her disdain for Twitter callouts) but that’s entirely the point.
Get these books at the English bookstore at Dussmann – Das Kulturkaufhaus.