D.The fact that the central image of this novel is so strong may also be due to the fact that it is cinematically shaped: Ten years ago, Jeff Nichols had a father who built a bunker in his garden because he saw a surreal storm approaching eerie feature film “Take Shelter” shown. It’s set in a small town in Ohio.
Svealena Kutschke, who was born in Lübeck in 1977, is moving the garden bunker to a north German housing estate, and the family man with the average name Martin Becker has more specific fears here in 1989: “You will see what else comes across where the wall is gone. Everyone can do that now ”- here the sentence breaks off. In addition, Chernobyl was only three years ago, and “that went off without a hitch here,” he explains to his wife and children. It soon becomes clear to the family that he is serious and starts the spade, orders concrete. The mother’s protest – “but the beautiful garden” – sounds bitterly ironic in Kutschke’s dreary description of the scenery – of course, one might almost say, because the contemporary novel, in which the Federal Republic is an idyll, has yet to be invented. As in Andreas Moster’s recently published novel “Small Palaces”, it is a term of “BRD noir” that manifests itself in a building, here even in an underground one. Where the father plans a “safe shelter”, the children see a “ridiculous hole in the garden” that also appears threatening.
Sarcastic description of the situation
The book revolves around threats, imagined and real. When the bunker took shape, pictures of the xenophobic attacks and assassinations at the beginning of the 1990s were already showing on the family TV. For the daughter, who is at the center of the story, it seems absurd even at the age of thirteen that the father sees himself in danger “in this peaceful settlement on the edge of the world”, although “it was so clear that the violence hit completely others” .
There is a deep lack of understanding between the generations. The fact that a child “could have a pain” in comparison to the apparently traumatic post-war childhood of their parents fills them with “astonished anger”. But Cornelia and Hannes even have a lot of pain, not only at school, they don’t feel at home in their bodies. In flashbacks to her school days, one learns of her bunkered feelings that have to be exposed. Cornelia becomes Colin when she falls in love with a friend. Hannes becomes overweight.
As if life were a staging
The novel is sometimes inscribed a little too clearly with the analysis of the world it portrays in cognitive sentences, where the literary representation would have sufficed. His strength lies in the perspective view of the characters and sometimes in the sarcastic description of the situation, especially in that part of the book that tells of the adult life of children. Both live there in Berlin, Hannes as a bailiff, whose work fulfills and burdens at the same time. Colin lives with her friend Eda, who is of Turkish descent, and often feels like in a theater setting, not only because you can see into the apartment from the passing train.
The bucket of his childhood put over the head of a person, the content of which runs down on him for life, as it is called by Doderer, still pours something on Hannes and Colin all the time. For Colin, the influence of the family is so strong, “as if Edas and their life together were a staging”, at the end of which she would move back home with her parents.
She is neither particularly similar nor closely connected to her brother – once it is said that “all that one had in common was shame”. But a suicide attempt by Hannes allows Colin to get in closer contact with him again. And sets a dynamic in motion, through which the novel still has some surprises in store in its last third, also in the confrontation with the parents. It is about how to find your place in life, how to free yourself from origins, attributions and, above all, internalized rules. Colin is thus free to earn her living at work in a Späti and to make literary attempts at writing. In this way, the narrative even receives a meta-level to contemporary literature and the marketing of art. In addition to the family, the ongoing history of violence and digressions on homophobia, that is a lot of material for a book. But Svealena Kutschke, who recently received the Hebbel Prize, copes well with it, especially in her sometimes ironic portrayal of Berlin scenes: a German novel that covers a long distance.
Svealena Kutschke: “Thunderstorm animals”. Novel. Claassen Verlag, Berlin 2021. 360 pp., Hardcover, € 24.
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