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The Short End of the Sonnenallee

Thomas Brussig

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Title: The Short End of the Sonnenallee
Author: Thomas Brussig
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2023)
Length: 157 pages
Original in: German
Availability: The Short End of the Sonnenallee - US
The Short End of the Sonnenallee - UK
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Am kürzeren Ende der Sonnenallee
In fondo al viale del sole - Italia
La avenida del sol - España
  • German title: Am kürzeren Ende der Sonnenallee
  • Translated by Jonathan Franzen and Jenny Watson
  • With an Introduction by Jonathan Franzen
  • Awarded the Hans Fallada Prize
  • Based on the film Sonnenallee
  • Thomas Brussig and Leander Haußmann were awarded the Drehbuchpreis der Bundesregierung (Screenplay Prize of the Federal Government) for their script to Sonnenallee

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Our Assessment:

A- : gentle lampoon of East Berlin life in the shadow of the Berlin Wall

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Berliner Morgenpost . 21/7/1999 Birgit Warnhold
The Economist B 21/10/2000 .
FAZ . 12/10/1999 Mechthild Küpper
The Guardian . 21/4/2023 John Self
Literary Review . 4/2023 George Cochrane
The NY Rev. of Books F 19/10/2023 Michael Hofmann
The NY Times Book Rev. . 2/7/2023 Alida Becker
The Observer A 30/4/2023 Ben East
Der Spiegel A- 6/9/1999 Volker Hage
The Telegraph A- 26/3/2023 Nikhil Krishnan
TLS . 14/4/2023 Maren Meinhardt
Wall St. Journal . 31/3/2023 Boyd Tonkin
Die Zeit A- 23/9/1999 Andreas Nentwich

  Review Consensus:

  The Germans are very positive -- Brussig pokes fun very well. Only The Economist thinks it's a bit thin.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Brussig hat seine Geschichte mit frechem Witz geschrieben, ohne seine Figuren zu denunzieren." - Birgit Warnhold, Berliner Morgenpost

  • "Mr Brussig's unseriousness is programmatic. (...) Nothing very bad happens. It is rather like a Billy Bunter book, japes and scrapes of the boys of the Remove. Not so bad; after all we had lots of fun. Is that how the GDR looks, ten years after its demise ?" - The Economist

  • "Das neue Buch von Thomas Brussig ist sein drittes und leichtestes. (...) Brussig, der das Schützenfest beschreibt, bleibt unversöhnt.Mit der Diktatur, und im Grunde auch mit der Kindheit." - Mechthild Küpper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "This is an entirely charming tale of “rich memories” and “making peace with the past”." - John Self, The Guardian

  • "Sonnenallee seems so skimpy, and relies so heavily on shallow effects and ill-judged surprises, that I wonder if the film -- which I haven’t seen -- didn’t come first. (...) All this goes well beyond inattentiveness or sloppiness into indifference. Why read a book put together with such flawless contempt? Why translate it? But people translate books in the teeth of all sorts of obstacles and few, for all sorts of reasons and none. Jenny Watson is a Germanist in the Midwest who teaches Brussig to her classes; Jonathan Franzen is perhaps bored with the US." - Michael Hofmann, The New York Review of Books

  • "Brussig’s gentle comedy is a reminder, as Franzen writes in his introduction, that “even when the public realm becomes a nightmare, people can still privately manage to preserve their humanity, and be silly, and forgive.” What better reminder than a timeless tale of adolescent longing -- and high jinks ?" - Alida Becker, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(I)t is a pitch-perfect takedown of the totalitarian experience. A reminder that no matter the harshness of a situation, a community can still live with hope and humour." - Ben East, The Observer

  • "Brussig vermag es, dieser so unendlich oft erzählten Geschichte von der ersten großen Liebe Anmut und Witz zu geben. (...) DDR-Nostalgie der feinen Art." - Volker Hage, Der Spiegel

  • "The fullness of Eastern lives, and their human ordinariness -- despite the emptiness and abnormality of the background against which they were lived -- is the subject of Brussig’s funny, rueful book." - Nikhil Krishnan, The Telegraph

  • "The Short End of the Sonnenallee is a charming light comedy. (...) The Short End of the Sonnenallee, which first appeared in German in 1999, might be accused of looking at the GDR with the soft focus of nostalgia, and this wouldn’t be entirely wrong: a former East Berliner, Brussig concedes that memory is not an accurate instrument for examining the past. But this novel also performs what the author calls “the miracle of making peace with the past”, and this, he ventures, may be a greater feat." - Maren Meinhardt, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Tatsächlich aber ist der schmale Episodenroman Am kürzeren Ende der Sonnenallee, der etwa Mitte der achtziger Jahre unter Ostberliner Heranwachsenden spielt und bis in die umstandslose Syntax hinein ihre Gefühls- und Erfahrungswelt evoziert, reinste, heiterste, zärtlichste Poesie des Widerstands. Und zwar des richtigen Widerstands, von dessen Risiken seinerzeit selbst die armen Prol-Kinder und multikulturellen Underdogs vom längeren Ende der Sonnenallee nicht den mindesten Begriff gehabt haben dürften. (...) So stereotyp seine Figuren auch sind, so schimmernd und vielsagend sind ihre Gesten." - Andreas Nentwich, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Am kürzeren Ende der Sonnenallee is the book to the film, Brussig's novelization of the film Sonnenallee he wrote with Leander Haußmann. Brussig manages the unlikely transition well, producing a book that can easily stand on its own.
       The Sonnenallee of the title is the sunnily-named Berlin boulevard running through the divided city, of which only a tiny piece -- the short end of the title -- got stuck on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall when the city was partitioned. It is the goings-on here, in the shadows of the wall, that are described by Brussig. Centered around young Micha Kupisch and his family and friends, the novel relates a variety of episodes exposing the bizarre and grotesque everyday lives of those living in the German Democratic Republic.
       There is some earnestness here -- there are a few arrests, shots are fired -- but almost everything is played as broad and generally very gentle comedy. The officials tend to believe wholeheartedly in the system, and try to impose their beliefs, but with little success. Invariably, each time a devoted follower of the regime seeks to prove the system's superiority over the West things go terribly wrong.
       Everyone muddles through. Tellingly, however, it is two visitors from the West who suffer most. Micha's Uncle Heinz, who generously regularly comes to visit his poor sister and her family in the East, smuggles in candy for the kids and worries about the asbestos in the family's tiny apartment giving them all lung cancer. His concerns, as it turns out, are misplaced. Worse yet is the fate of a Westerner nicknamed the Sheik, who appears in a new car each time he come to the East for a visit -- and who gets his comeuppance for trying to be someone he is not.
       Micha is madly in love with Miriam, the new girl on the block, -- as are all his schoolmates. He pursues her throughout the novel, managing to get into a fair amount of trouble along the way -- though no less than many of his friends. Best laid plans -- regardless of whose they might be -- stand no chance for those living in Sonnenallee -- but failure is also not as terrible as it might be elsewhere, with a pervasive sense of family and camaraderie uniting almost all.
       There are melancholy touches about the unreachable West. One youth tells of travelling throughout the East, to places that are almost unreachable or can usually only be visited with organized tour groups -- Siberia, China, even Mongolia -- but admits that all his tricks are of no use in trying to get to the West. Micha's mother finds the passport of a Westerner and plans to use it to cross the border for a visit to West Berlin. She can make herself look like the woman in the passport photograph, but watching others cross the border she knows she can never act the part of one of these Westerners convincingly.
       Throughout the novel Brussig shows almost perfect comic timing, the humour almost never too forced, and adding one or two layers to each situation in pushing it to the limits of the believably absurd. Except that he warns the reader a few times too often in advance that the outcome of a given situation was to come out worse than anyone could have anticipated (an unnecessary warning), Brussig shows great command in his presentation, unfolding the story beautifully.
       Brussig shows the proper restraint in this novel -- unlike his earlier, more obvious efforts, where the humour sometimes is too heavy-handed. Not too ambitious, this novel is nevertheless a very entertaining read. Recommended.

Please note that this review refers to the original German version.

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The Short End of the Sonnenallee: Reviews: Sonnenallee - the film:
  • IMDb page
  • Interview with Brussig and Leander Haußmann (German)
Thomas Brussig: Other books by Thomas Brussig under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See also the index of German literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       German author Thomas Brussig was born in Berlin in 1965. He grew up in the German Democratic Republic.

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© 2000-2023 the complete review

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