Review in Deutschlandfunk 12 June 2012
Wladimir Kaminer’s Blog Review 23 April 2013
Book Review by UC Berkeley undergraduate Tanja Mehlo:
Ohne Fleiß kein Reis was written in 2012 by Martin Hyun. In this collection of stories taken from his everyday life, Hyun describes his experiences as a person born in Germany to Korean parents. While recounting his attempts to navigate life in Germany, he sends a strong message about the difficulties faced by foreigners who attempt to be fully integrated into German society. This review will focus on how he constructs this message, and how his style of writing supports the argument he is making.
While we haven’t discussed the situation of Asians in Germany as much in class, Hyun’s book ties in to our discussion of the generation of “foreigners,” such as Turks, who were born and raised in Germany by non-German parents. Hyun spends the first parts of the book telling us about his childhood and his strict Korean parents. Not only does this allow us to relate to him, it also adds credibility to his words by establishing him as a well-adjusted and educated member of society. This underscores his main point: Despite his being a model citizen of Germany, society never accepts him as fully integrated. As he sets out to make his life in the world, Hyun finds that xenophobia is the only explanation left for his difficulties in finding employment and the frequent negative reactions from those around him. Hyun faces elements of racism and xenophobia and makes it clear to us that German society has not moved beyond that.
Throughout the course of his life, Hyun, born in 1979, witnesses and comments on countless historical and worldwide events, such as the reunification of East and West Germany, the September 11 terrorist attacks, Obama’s election, the relationship between North and South Korea, and globalization, but does not focus on any of them in particular. Rather, he reflects on how these events affect him as an individual living in Germany, such as the increased antagonism foreigners experienced after reunification. Hyun’s aim is not to explain what leads people to fear strangers or why society still cannot fully accept non-native Germans, but to describe how this affects the mostly adapted generation of foreigners born in Germany.
One story in particular, “Unter Gladiatoren im Schloss Bellevue” (p. 142), illustrates his point. Hyun is invited by the Bundespräsident to a conference about diversity, where many highly successful politicians and executives are in attendance. However, even here, Germans and foreigners do not intermingle – there are separate tables for native Germans and foreigners. Hyun realizes that that the wealthy elite did not attend to talk about diversity and integration, but because they enjoy seeing confirmed that they have reached the very top of society. While this story is just one of many, is summarizes Hyun’s thoughts about integration well: Germans like to believe they are welcoming of foreigners, but they do not actually want to associate with them.
The book reads similar to a blog post, with each story sounding as if it had popped into Hyun’s mind minutes before he wrote it. As with blog entries, there is no ongoing storyline between the chapters. The author wants us to develop an image of the state of integration in Germany by giving us examples of what he has experienced. Not until the very end does he state his argument explicitly. His dry humor, typical for Germans, also has another effect: Hyun shows his readers that he knows society well enough to joke with them: “In Friedrichshain trotzt man der vermuteten Entsolidarisierung unserer Gesellschaft. Anonyme Spender stellen ihre leergetrunkenen Bierflaschen der Einfachheit halber auf Bürgersteigen, Stromkästen oder Parkbänken ab.” (p. 22).
Ohne Fleiß kein Reis is a collection of evidence for Hyun’s argument that German society has failed to fully integrate foreigners, despite the fact that many Germans believe that racism is a thing of the past. The treatment of foreign people in Germany is clearly a topic still worthy of discussion.