Friday, August 14, 2015

The New Sorrows of Young W.

The New Sorrows of Young W. by Ulrich Plenzdorf
Romy Fursland (Translator)
Pushkin Press: 8/11/15
eBook review copy, 160 pages
ISBN-13: 9781782271130

The New Sorrows of Young W. by Ulrich Plenzdorf is a recommended satirical novel that was originally published in 1972 in Germany. This re-released edition is translated from the German by Romy Fursland.

Edgar Wibeau, a 17 year old drop out, is found dead, electrocuted, inside a condemned building in Berlin with just a tape recorder and a battered copy of Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther. Edgar had previously sent tapes discussing his life to his friend Willi Linder. His father, hoping to find an explanation for his son's death, now listens to the tapes and retraces Edgar's travels, from Mittenberg to Berlin, since he left home.  The voice of Edgar's spirit interjects comments and explanations along the way as his father visits Charlie, the kindergarten teacher Edgar loved, and Addi, Edgar's last employer.

The New Sorrows of Young W. is a parody of and follows The Sufferings of Young Werther. Goethe's work is often quoted along the way, creating a work of intertextuality between the two. Along with Young Wether, Plenzdorf also includes tie-ins to Salinger's Holden Caulfield, the standard for teen arrogance and angst. The result is a funny, absurd, and tragic coming of age story set in East Germany.

Having never read Goethe's original but well acquainted with Salinger, I found this novel amusing and entertaining. The whole part on blue jeans, how they should be worn and who can wear them was pretty funny, even as it served as a symbolic representation of communism in East Germany. While the novel is dated, it was interesting and insightful. It might be more entertaining if I had been a teenage boy.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Pushkin Press for review purposes.

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