Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Alina Bronsky: An Appreciation

Alina Bronsky has been one of my favorite authors ever since her book Broken Glass Park came out in 2010. She writes in German, largely about the Russian immigrant community in Germany, though her themes- family, belonging, the search for and power of love- are universal. Her books can be challenging- she frequently writes about difficult situations and characters that may be unlikable on the surface- but her books are always deeply rewarding reads.

Her latest book. Barbara Isn't Dying, just came out from Europa Editions and they reached out to me about doing a retrospective on her books, and I couldn't possibly say no. They provided with a copy of Barbara and copies of most of her back catalog to help get me back up to speed as well.

Broken Glass Park
was her debut in 2010 and told the story of Sascha, a young woman whose mother was murdered by her stepfather, who is now in prison. Sascha navigates her life more or less on her own, though she is able to find mentors and friends who support her and offer her a brighter version of the future than what she sees herself. It's a beautiful book that shows with piercing insight the realities of family violence and the consequences for children. 

You can read the interview I did with Bronsky for Broken Glass Park by clicking on the link here.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine
(2011) moves the setting to the crumbling Soviet Union as matriarch Rosa tries to make a better life for her granddaughter, Aminat, born to Rosa's (in her opinion) feckless daughter. Hottest Dishes is more satirical than Broken Glass and less tragic- more tragicomic. Rosa is the first in a series of myopic, or even narcissistic, characters that Bronsky will introduce.

You can read the interview I did with Bronsky for Hottest Dishes at this link.

 Just Call Me Superhero (2014) was one of the most challenging of Bronsky's books for me emotionally, but the reasons for that are idiosyncratic to me. Superhero tells the story of Marek, a teen boy whose face was mutilated by a dog. We return to modern-day Germany for Marek's story- he's a virtual shut-in who becomes infatuated with a beautiful young woman, Janne, with her own challenges. The book is a beautiful story about redemption and the power of love.

Baba Dunja's Last Love
(2016) Set in modern day Eastern Europe in an area damaged by the Chernobyl disaster, this book tells the story of Baba Dunja, who is part of a community of people who try to eke out a life despite the radiation and ongoing danger. Into this world come a father and daughter; Baba Dunja takes a liking to the little girl, for whom she fears, but soon something happens to the father and it's the fallout from that which determines the fate of the town and Baba Dunja herself.

 My Grandmother's Braid (2021) is a wonderful, bittersweet novel. It's a subtle coming of age story set in Germany among Jewish immigrants from Russia. It's a very sharp portrait of living with a narcissist for sure. Maxi lives with his grandparents- his domineering grandmother and a grandfather who falls in love with a neighbor. The book is largely concerned with the fallout from that affair, and Maxi's struggle for air in a claustrophobic household.

Which brings me to her latest book, Barbara Isn't Dying, just out yesterday from Europa Editions! I will have a review of that book up on Friday. Spoiler alert: it's great too.

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