Gail Jones – A Guide to Berlin

Cass has fled her Australian home and arrives in Berlin at the beginning of January not expecting it to such freezing cold. In front of a memory plate for Vladimir Nabokov she encounters Marco who invites her to a strange group. Apart from the Italian, there is an American, Victor, another Italian, Gino and a Japanese couple, Yuki and Mitsuko, who all gather in vacant apartments to tell stories of their lives. They are linked by the love for Nakobov’s work and when seeing each other outside their somehow close to self-help group meetings, they walk in the author’s footsteps and search for traces of Berlin of the 1920s.
I was really carried away by this novel which offered much more than I expected. First of all, I was interested how a non-German would perceive our capital without all the historic weight that we Germans perceive all the time. Gail Jones’ picture of Berlin is really different from what you find in German novels and I enjoyed reading about this other way of seeing the town. Especially Cass’ way of taking the U and S Bahn system as a way of orientation and the skeleton was an interesting picture. Additionally, I think Jones perfectly transmitted Berlin winters in the novel, it can be awfully cold and the way the cold creeps into Cass’ body is more than authentic.

The way the famous author Nabokov was integrated was also a very interesting and convincing construction of the plot. To me it was not that obvious taking the Russian for a tour through Berlin, but it works and also offered a new perspective. The characters were also captivatingly drawn; they all have their little secrets and only offer small insights in their lives. Most remains unsaid but nevertheless this is much more than details, because it fits absolutely to the plot of a brief and temporary encounter during which you never really get to know somebody.
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