Falling from grace

 Dear Ingo,

Your novel Adam and Evelyn (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 304 p. Translator: John E. Woods) takes place in the Summer of 1989 and centers around a couple who lived in East Germany at that time. Adam is a guy in his early-thirties, who works as a master tailor and dressmaker. Due to Adam’s chronic infidelity, his partner, the 21-years-old Eva, abruptly sets off for a long-planned vacation in Hungary, along with a friend and with Michael, the friend’s charming West German cousin, with whom Eva begins an affair of her own.

Adam, though uninvited, stalks her in this journey across Eastern Europe. His road companions are a pet turtle named “Elfriede”, and a 1961 car affectionately named “Heinrich.” While in Czechoslovakia, Adam meets Katja, a girl who is planning to flee to the West and has tried to swim the Danube to get out. Upon her request, he smuggles her over the Hungarian border in the trunk of his car.

As background noise to this comedy of sex, a political story develops and gradually takes over the private drama, culminating in the fall of the Berlin Wall. On Aug. 19, 1989, there was a mass flight of East Germans through a border gate which was symbolically opened on the occasion of a pan-European picnic, on the Hungarian border with Austria. What the characters assume to be a momentary gap in the surveillance structure of the Iron Curtain actually anticipates the system’s total collapse.  Interactions become more and more laced with suspicion: friends might be spies; rumors of open borders could be traps.

Your writing is spare, the chapters are episodic and the style is elusive. With the prevalence of dialogue over description, the book reads almost like a stage play. With austere simplicity, each chapter begins with some form of dialogue that is, at first, unattributed. We often don’t know, at the beginning of a chapter, who is talking to whom. You drop us, the readers, into the narrative without providing us with context or back stories. Only after a few lines do we discover who is speaking. The effects of the events are visible to the reader, but their causes are left under the shadow.

The novel is a hybrid of sex comedy, road trip, coming of age journey, existential quest and thriller. The book title is allegorical and alludes to the Genesis story of Adam and Eve as they are cast out of paradise. Two minor characters are named Michaela and Gabriela, after the archangels. All the main characters move continually away from the confines of their “original garden”, East Germany.

However, the allusion to the biblical “fall from grace” is dubious: it can refer to (1) Adam’s infidelity; (2) the escape to the capitalist West; or (3) the fall of the Berlin Wall itself. You left the answer open to contradictory interpretations. Where is paradise? Which one is the original sin here? You refuse to idealize the events of 1989, and, with carefully constructed irony, weave the plot in many levels: personal, political, allegorical. The domestic crisis unfolds against a political one, prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall and nested inside it like a Matryoshka doll. Major and minor events, the private and the political, constantly overtake each other. Each private decision has its political shadow, and vice-versa. The fall of the Berlin wall is both expulsion from paradise and liberation from hell.  

Yours truly,

J.


About the book

  • SCHULZE, Ingo. Adam und Evelyn. Berlin Verlag, 2008. 304 p.
  • Goodreads

In English:

  • Adam and Evelyn. Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 304 p. Translator: John E. Woods.
  • Goodreads

Adam and Evelyn was shortlisted for the 2008 Deutscher Buchpreis.


Adam and Eve, Albrecht Dürer
Adam and Eve, Albrecht Dürer
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