Author: Alina Bronsky
Translated to English by: Tim Mohr
Published: Europa Editions (2010)
Broken Glass Park is the story of an orphaned Russian teen, Sascha Naimann, and her life in a German slum. And it's a pretty dismal life she leads. She lives in a shabby apartment with her two half-siblings--Alissa and Anton--and their guardian, Maria. Sascha never knew her father, and her mother was murdered by an ex-lover, Vadim. She has few friends, and those her age around her are presented in an unflattering light. She's an bright young woman, but filled with a lot of anger and angst. Two things help keep her sane--she's going to write a novel about her mother to tell the world how wonderful she was, and as soon as Vadim gets out of prison she's going to kill him.
The world Bronsky shows us is pretty intense through Sascha's eyes, as she deals with not only her own troubles but those of the people she cares about. She's abrasive and curt with even those close to her, but she's been hardened by the life she's lived. It was easy for me to read this girl's thoughts and think that I've probably crossed paths with someone a lot like her more than once. The things she has to endure at times are excruciating, but all that pathos works in showing how what's happened to her in the past shapes how she reacts to what happens to her in the present. And a lot happens in the time we spend with her.
A particularly evocative scene occurs when she confronts the woman who wrote a sympathetic articles about the man who murdered her mother. It was easy for me to get on board with her for that moment, both in her anger and her discomfort. Then, later in the book, when she visits the broken glass park behind the Emerald where she lives, a new side of her comes out that is a bit less sympathetic. She's not a cut-and-dry character, that's for sure.
It's a relatively quick read with no chapter breaks. It might not be everyone's cup of tea, and I'll bet there are people ready to dismiss it as chick lit with sharp teeth, but I was impressed enough with the book to recommend it to absolutely anyone. The book borders on melancholy, but avoids crossing that line by offering a sincere character study of sorts with just enough humor--however dark it might be--to make you not want to slit your wrists.
Alina Bronsky is a pseudonym, so whoever is writing under that name has managed to craft a very good debut novel. And Tim Mohr has done a fantastic job of translating it into English, so we anglophones can appreciate it.