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After the Wall: Confessions from an East Germany Childhood and the Life That Came Next
Synopses & Reviews
Jana Hensel was thirteen on November 9, 1989, the night the Berlin Wall fell. In all the euphoria over German reunification, no one stopped to think what it would mean for Jana and her generation of East Germans. These were the kids of the seventies, who had grown up in the shadow of Communism with all its hokey comforts: the Young Pioneer youth groups, the cheerful Communist propaganda, and the comforting knowledge that they lived in a Germany unblemished by an ugly Nazi past and a callous capitalist future.
Suddenly everything was gone. East Germany disappeared, swallowed up by the West, and in its place was everything Jana and her friends had coveted for so long: designer clothes, pop CDs, Hollywood movies, supermarkets, magazines. They snapped up every possible Western product and mannerism. They changed the way they talked, the way they walked, what they read, where they went. They cut off from their parents. They took English lessons, and opened bank accounts. Fifteen years later, they all have the right haircuts and drive the right cars, but who are they? Where are they going?
In After the Wall, Jana Hensel tells the story of her confused generation of East Germans, who were forced to abandon their past and feel their way through a foreign landscape to an uncertain future. Now as they look back, they wonder whether the oppressive, yet comforting life of their childhood wasn't so bad after all.
"Hensel was born in Leipzig, East Germany, in 1976 and was 13 when the Berlin Wall fell. This intriguing but frustrating memoir, a bestseller in Germany, portrays the disorientation of her generation, whose upbringing under communism ended abruptly with the integration of East and West Germany. Hensel rambles through a wide range of subjects: the erasure of memory; East German youth's alienation from their Western peers; her ambivalence about her childhood; their inability to adjust to the new world, which resulted in a role reversal in which Hensel had to 'interpret' Western customs for her parents; and her generation's compulsion to disguise themselves as Western, changing their clothes and even their accents. But the disappearance of the artifacts of her childhood and the lack of value attributed by her Western friends to her memories leave Hensel at a loss. According to Clarke's note at the book's end, this was the first title to expose the experience of Hensel's generation. Although the memoir clearly struck a chord in Germany, it is so blurred by the 'twilight zone' of Hensel's existence, 'in which daily life seems arbitrary, provisional, and somewhat unreal,' that Clarke's thoughts more clearly reveal East German history and Hensel's generation than the author does herself." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
Hensel's childhood ended on Nov. 9, 1989, the evening the Berlin Wall fell. Almost overnight, the East Germany that had surrounded the 13- year-old and her peers in a woolly Communist Party cocoon ceased to exist, swallowed by the West. Today Hensel is a journalist living in Berlin. Her memoir, a best-seller when it was published in 2002 as Zonenkinder, conveys the post-reunification bafflement experienced by "the last generation of GDR kids." It also raises the question of whether the oppressive yet comforting life of their childhood wasn't so bad, after all. The volume is illustrated with nostalgic b&w images of the relics of communism--utilitarian consumer goods, Young Pioneers kitsch, the interiors of tiny housing-development kitchens. The translation ends with a brief history that helps Western readers decode the cultural references.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
For the fifteenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall: The bittersweet memoir of a young East German woman, searching for her country and herself
About the Author
Jana Hensel was born in Leipzig, East Germany, in 1976. She is currently a freelance journalist living in Berlin. After the Wall, published in German under the title Zonenkinder, was a major bestseller in Germany. Jefferson Chase has previously translated The Culture of Defeat by Wolfgang Schivelbusch and Death in Venice and Other Stories by Thomas Mann. A journalist and writer, he lives in Berlin.
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