Monday, June 14, 2010

Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky

Sascha Naimann is not like the rest of the people who live in her broken down apartment building in Berlin. They don't have dreams, or if they do, their dreams are stupid and shallow. Sascha, however, has two dreams, two important goals in life. One is to write a book about her mother, the other is to kill the man who murdered her mother.

Broken Glass Park is Sascha's story. It's obvious right from the start that Sascha is a different sort of narrator. She's not soft or sympathetic. Despite the bad hand life seems to have dealt her, Sascha isn't looking for pity. She's prickly at best and, at worst, downright cruel to the people who have the misfortune of stumbling into her path. Yet, she is intelligent. She is her half-brother and sister's fierce protector and a determined force in seeing that they are educated and brought up properly. She loves her mother as much as she hated her mother for her weakness and foolishness. She claims to loathe men, yet can't stop herself from wanting to be desired by them. Sascha is a study in contradictions and a narrator that is hard to understand and even harder to love.

Told from Sascha's first person point of view, Broken Glass Park is brutal. Bronsky doesn't shy away from uncomfortable subjects. She gives us glimpses of a certain sensitivity and nobility in Sascha, but never long enough for us to forget the narrator's angry, cruel streak. Just as Sascha doesn't let anyone in her life get too near, we, the readers, aren't allowed to get too near either, just stand to the side reading as Sascha battles her way through the remainder of her deeply troubled youth.

Broken Glass Park is a story that is undeniably well-told. Sascha's character, whether you like her or not, is vividly created in Bronsky's spare, straight-forward prose nicely translated from German by Tim Mohr. All her contradictions and her confusion are laid bare for us and despite being unable to love her, as a reader, you can't help but hope for a redemptive end to Sascha's story.

Unfortunately, however, I didn't love the book. While I read the whole thing and found the narrator's voice unique and at times captivating, I felt as if I were never fully engrossed in the story. The rough nature of the story and the narrator's prickly, cruel, self-destructive personality were often off-putting which kept me from being entirely taken in by it. More than once I found myself frustrated and perplexed by Sascha's actions, which inasmuch as it may be indicative of a strong well-written character, didn't make Broken Glass Park a particularly rewarding reading experience for me. It was real, and it was gritty, perhaps, a bit too gritty and real for my tastes.

(Thanks to Amanda at Regal Literary for a copy for review.)

Read some other reviews at...

The Boston Bibliophile
Jenny's Books
Alison's Book Marks


  1. It can be difficult to fully enjoy a book when you can't identify with, sympathize with, or fall in love with the main character, especially when he/she is also the narrator.

  2. There were parts of this that were too gritty for my tastes, too, but I thought Sascha was a wonderful character. I am normally put off by prickly, alienated narrators; there was just something about Sascha's fierceness and humor that appealed to me all the way through.

  3. Trisha - I've read and enjoyed books where I didn't love the characters, but they're definitely harder to enjoy, on the whole.

    Jenny - I think Sascha's a character that I could think over for a long time and still never decide if I truly loved or hated her. Even now, I can't quite decide. I guess she's so real that there are parts of her that you can't help respecting and parts of her that you can't help being slightly appalled by. I'm not sure exactly what kept this book from clicking with me, whether it was something about the character and her more self-destructive actions or whether it was my mood when I read it. Maybe in a few more weeks I'll work it out. ;-)

  4. It's too bad the book didn't live up to its potential.

  5. After I finished this book I couldnt help but cry since I can relate in a way. My family are Russian immigrants too and reading this brought back forgotten and nostalgic memories. Growing up in a poorer russian community at first where misery is your company. Things are better now but like Sascha I too want to escape from my emotions and sourroundings to somewhere else...

    maria reminds of my babushka(grandmother) who helped raise me and Alisa makes me think of my cousin who was also named after alice in wonderland.

    Anyways great book a bit depressing but I highly reccomend it!