Review: The Wall Jumper

Berlin before the fall of the Wall is a city divided, yet its ordinary residents find ways to live and survive on both sides. There is Robert, teller of barroom anecdotes over beer and vodka, adjusting to a new life in the west; Pommerer, trying to outwit the system in the east; the unnamed narrator, who ‘escapes’ back-and-forth to collect stories; his beguiling, exiled lover Lena; the three boys who defect to watch Hollywood films; and the man who leaps across the Wall again and again – simply because he cannot help himself.

All are, in their different ways, wall jumpers, trying to lose themselves but still trapped wherever they go. Ultimately, the walls inside their heads prove to be more powerful than any man-made barrier … (from Amazon)

Schneider’s The Wall Jumper is ultimately a novel about Berlin, divided Berlin. He is fastidious in his examination of the Berlin Wall, German identity and the relationship between the individual and the state. He makes great points, however, the book itself contains a main ‘plot’ (if you can call it that- very little happens and happens in a disjointed manner) punctuated and interrupted by stories of German individuals who attempt to surpass the wall.

My problem is with characterisation, style and plot. Schneider often ‘tells’ instead of ‘showing and the characters are not very realistic in their characterisation or depiction and they are more like caricatures. ‘. Although I understand that Schneider is trying to make a statement on how deeply a state influences someone’s character, his writing could have definitely been more subtle. It feels very in-your-face, and there is no rest from the topic of German identity. A relentless exploration. The poor characterisation is not helped by the lack of a gripping plot. Many of my friends struggled to finish reading the book and did not enjoy it.

On one hand, the cluttered nature of the text could be itself testament to the narrator’s ambiguity over the state of German identity and feelings of disorientation. On the other hand, it definitely could have been better written, even if still scattered everywhere structurally.

In short: a superb exploration of German life in a divided Berlin, a passable piece of work. The book is not dated, merely it could have been better written. It lacks subtlety. Good for people who like explicit writing and short stories. I think there were definitely gems in this book, even if it did not glow as a whole.

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