Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sleepless Days

It's hard to find any information about Jurek Becker's Sleepless Days. Usually, a Google through the interwebs on any book of choice will yield a good deal of information, some good, some...not so good. But this is not the case when I was looking to get some background on Sleepless Days.

This story chronicles a crisis in the life of an East German schoolteacher. An unidentifiable health episode descends Karl Simlock into a kind of life-upending transformation. He quits his job, his family and everything that anchors his daily routine: "I have led my whole life so far as if the genuinely important things were still to come. I have been waiting for the door to be opened behind which the action is taking place. I never asked myself whose hand is supposed to turn the doorknob."

Becker's Simlock is experiencing a crisis anyone in middle age can relate to. Yet, because Simlock's episode is partly caused by the restrictive world of East Germany, I found it difficult to pinpoint Becker's motives behind Sleepless Days. Was Becker trying to portray the existential trauma of one man (any man) or was the screaming desperation laid out by Simlock, a metaphor for the frustrations all East Germans felt living in the GDR's crushing banality and marginalized anonymity?

Either way, this is a beautiful book and I am shocked that it flies so far below the radar.

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