Set in rural East Germany in 1990 this is a story about love, longing, sexual awakening, confusion, violence and betrayal. Maria is 16 years old and, escaping an unsettled family background with parents who have separated, she has come to live with her boyfriend Johannes on the family farm. A dreamy, passionate girl who would far rather read Dostoyevsky than go to school or help out on the farm, she is, nevertheless, grateful for this haven. However, she soon becomes aware that, fond as she is of Johannes, neither a future with him, nor on the farm, is likely to satisfy her. Then she meets Henner who owns the neighbouring farm, an older, enigmatic man with a reputation for violence and for womanising. Over the summer their mutual attraction and flirting rapidly evolve into a passionate, and at times brutal, affair which has the potential for causing much unhappiness and damage, to themselves and to others.
Set against a background which vividly captures people’s hopes, dreams and expectations, as well as their anxieties, about the massive changes the reunification of Germanywill bring, this story captivated me from the start. It is full of conflict, tension and hope and the use of the first person narrative was employed to very powerful effect to capture the intensity of feeling in an adolescent girl. The author’s writing style is wonderfully elegant, spare and well-paced, vividly capturing Maria’s passion, guilt, confusion and inner turmoil. It is a story about discovery and the process of coming of age, and it also evoked a strong sense of time and place. I think it is a wonderful debut novel and that it would be an ideal choice for reading groups.