Schönhauser Allee – Wladimir Kaminer

The first book I read in German! I am very proud of myself! I have been studying German for years now, I needed it in my art history studies and for a year I even studied applied linguistics with English and German as my main languages, but somehow I have never read a single fiction book in German, plenty of academic texts, but no fiction. I restarted my adventure with German a year ago when one of my friends recommended Milengua to me, this way I can have individual classes over skype with a native speaker, it works great (for me at least). I got this book from my teacher, when she decided that the course book is getting boring and clearly I am capable of reading and understanding everything in it, so it was time to move on to more interesting things.

Kaminer is a Russian living on Berlin for years, in his book he invites us to see his neighbourhood. Which seems to be ordinary at first glance, but filtered through his lens of foreigner and one that retained post-soviet distance and irony towards the world it becomes full of weird and funny characters and observations. It is a collection of very short stories, one-two page long, describing events taking place at Schönhauser Allee, its inhabitants and people passing through. Almost like a collection of street photography, quick snaps that together give us a crazy but pretty complete picture. For Kaminer has a very good sense of absurd and he’s not afraid to use it. His book made me notice absurd in my everyday life, in things I take for granted that turn absurd when you think about them reasonably. For example buttons on the door in the Tube, they’re there, but they don’t work, every Londoner knows it, so it’s only poor tourists who try to use them, which always earns them a few condescending smiles – why put the buttons there at all if they’re not used?! But to make it more confusing once the poor tourist gets used to not using buttons on the Tube and gets on the DLR, overground or a train the rules change again. We’re used to take many absurd things in our stride without second thought, but put yourself in outsider’s shoes and you see all the absurd things, very refreshing. And that’s exactly how Kaminer shows us his part of Berlin.

In some ways this book also made me realise how serious English and American literature often is, how politically correct. It may be down my personal selections, I admit, but it crossed my mind that when I read a book in English it usually is pretty bound by its genre, so it turns funny or ironic only if it is a satire. Whereas Kaminer describes foreigners experience (which is a serious topic) with ease, irony and some distance, without losing the serious element in the process. His observations, served to us lightly, are sharp and he allows himself to be politically incorrect at times (or allows himself not to be politically correct? not sure what sounds better here). What I also found refreshing is the resourcefulness of his characters, they don’t necessarily trust the authorities or rely on them, they take matters in their own hands, as misguided as it can sometimes prove.

A good book with a continental touch, that reminded me how different things are ‘on the continent’ (as if UK was a part of a different continent, wishful thinking ;)) and how I miss it sometimes.

Did you notice any interesting absurdities in your everyday life? Please share in comments, make people smile 🙂

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska @ vkphotospace

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One thought on “Schönhauser Allee – Wladimir Kaminer

  1. Pingback: September round-up – bookskeptic.com

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