English translation: Broken Glass Park, translated by Tim Mohr, Europa Editions, 2010.
Book Review by UC Berkeley undergraduate student Brittany Scott:
Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky was published in 2010 and is a young adult novel that brilliantly emphasizes how differences in nationality can impact one individual’s life in a multiplicity of ways. The main protagonist Sascha fights against the stereotypes the bloody murder of her mother perpetuates as well as cultural stereotypes, which are portrayed through her immigrant, lower class status.
Broken Glass Park has several themes in relation to immigrant status, including education. Sascha is a member of an elite private school named “Alfred Delp” which caters to high society. Sascha is a token migrant student and serves as an example of foreign novelty. She is “…the only one with an “immigrant background” (pg. 14) and the victim of pity. Sascha fights to succeed in her classes and excels as a result, but finds herself consistently reminded that she is Alfred Delp’s attempt to “create a little diversity.” (Pg. 15) The issue of immigrants in the education system has not yet become a question in German 160D but Broken Glass Park raises the question of how immigrant students are treated within the German education system. Was it always typical for students in Germany to be ostracized as foreigners? Is this still a standard in the 21st century as implied by Sascha’s status her elite private school? The novel did not clearly answer these questions.
Remnants of xenophobia shine from Sascha’s world. The character Volker is a twenty four year old computer science major that demonstrates neo – Nazi characteristics by espousing his disdain for non-Germans in German society. “We’re losing everything- our economy, our language, our genes.” (Pg. 176) Volker proclaims avidly to Sascha without realizing that Sascha herself is a Russian immigrant. This then acknowledges the reality that neo-Nazism is still an issue relevant to modern society and in this manner Germany cannot escape its history and that of the Third Reich. The implications raised by the character of Volker demonstrate the xenophobia that became typical of the later 20th century following the increased unemployment fueled by the oil crisis of 1973 and the fall of the Berlin Wall and eventual reunification. Volker’s words imply that immigrants are a stain and burden on German society, effectively reducing German nationality. Such beliefs demonstrate how it takes time to eradicate the trauma of history and that events such as the Holocaust can not entirely be redeemed when values that were the heart of the Third Reich still surface in the 21st century.
Cultural identity is an intriguing facet in the gem that is Broken Glass Park. Throughout the duration of the novel, Sascha and those around her struggle with their cultural identity in relation to Germany and it rises in multiple situations throughout the novel. Her mother’s murder two years prior to the beginning of the novel is enough cause for Sascha’s neighbors to avoid her home. It then invited the addition of her cousin Maria into Germany in the role of caretaker where she faces the struggles of learning a new language and shakily assimilating into the culture. The 2011 film Almanya portrays a similar struggle, wherein the matriarch of the family fights to convey her intentions in a grocery store. From education to xenophobia to immigration struggles, Broken Glass Park covers a vast array of themes that cannot all be acknowledged in a single review. That said, it is a rich and valuable addition to Germany literature and is a great asset to any reader interested in the struggles and strife an immigrant may face growing up in Germany.