Reviews for Here in Berlin

by Cristina Garcia

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*Starred Review* Feeling untethered after the collapse of her second marriage and estrangement from her mother, an unnamed Cuban American woman travels to Berlin and transforms herself into an oral historian, eliciting the traumatic, shameful, bemused, or unapologetic memories of WWII survivors. Together their tales form a jarring and haunting choral work of remembrance and pragmatism, pride and regret. The characters, subtly linked by past deeds, residency in a nursing home, or as patients of an African eye doctor with her own striking backstory, reveal a staggering array of war and postwar experiences. Garcia (King of Cuba, 2013), a transcendentally imaginative, piquantly satiric, and profoundly compassionate novelist, dramatizes the helter-skelter of lives ruptured by tyranny, war, and political upheavals with sharp awareness of unlikely multicultural alliances. The nearly 40 entrancing and unnerving recitations include revelations of the struggles of a starving German girl saved by an African American soldier, a German who discovers that his birth mother was Cuban, a Stasi spy forced to be a homosexual decoy, sisters running a Nazi sex club, and a war-crimes investigative lawyer. With echoes of W. G. Sebald and Günter Grass, Garcia has created an intricate, sensitive, and provocative montage revolving around the question: Do people remember only what they can endure, or distort memories until they can endure them? --Seaman, Donna Copyright 2017 Booklist


Library Journal
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This latest from García, a National Book Award finalist for Dreaming in Cuban, recounts conversations held by the narrator, known only as the "visitor," with strangers around modern-day Berlin. Most of the interactions are with people who lived through World War II, from a Jewish woman who hid in a coffin built by her husband to a woman who defended former Nazis in court. We hear the story of one woman who performs cataract surgery and another who is happy that her cataracts have blurred her vision so she can no longer see her reflection in the mirror. Others have more anecdotal stories, e.g., a doppelganger of Hitler's wife, Eva Braun, and a man who was commissioned to create a new dance craze by the German Ministry of Culture. VERDICT Unfortunately, most of García's vignettes are only a few pages long, leaving readers no chance of getting to know the emotions or details of the characters' lives. This novel touches on complex themes such as exile, memory, and life in wartime but without much depth.-Kate Gray, Boston P.L., MA © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A visitor to Berlin accumulates the haunting stories of its residents.When a nameless traveler comes to contemporary Berlin, to learn about the city and about herself, she confronts first the challenge of language and then, once that is conquered, the challenge of understanding. As she meets more people, walks more streets, her diligent recording illustrates how an interloper can learn by listening, observing, asking. As one character astutely and elegantly notes, "When one no longer belongs to a tribeor is a newcomer, a visitor, like youeverything reveals itself." Along the visitor's way she meets characters of all kind, their binding attribute the lasting effects of the desperation, trauma, and violence of World War II: a Jewish woman who hid for 37 days, buried in a sarcophagus in a church graveyard, surviving on poetry; a man who lived through the war as a "homosexual decoy, recruiting foreign informants"; a woman whose mother tried to kill her three timesonce by "stuffing an oil-soaked rag down her throat," once by abandoning her in a jungle, and once by slashing her with a blunt machetewho is now pregnant with her own child; a man who traveled to Alabama for the Nazi Party to research the preaching abilities of African-American pastors so their skills might be adapted for the Fhrer. Garca, author of Dreaming in Cuban (1992), which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and more recently King of Cuba (2013), is a skilled writer, crafting a complete story from the threads of many glimpses. In the assembly of these glimpses, she has created a vivid portrait of a decimated yet surging Berlin since World War II, of individuality and humankind, of terror and resilience. It is beautifully written in a fluent and evocative prose. It is the story of how people live with their pasts. A stunning collection of memories, snippets, and specters. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

A nameless Visitor, lonely and insecure, spends several months in Berlin during 2013, absorbing the stories of dozens of people whose lives have been shaped, or twisted out of shape, by the Second World War and its aftermath. With the vividness-and unreliability-of a fevered hallucination, they tell haunting, and occasionally intersecting, stories that last only a few pages but linger much longer. An elderly Cuban, visiting the city for a funeral, recalls being kidnapped as an adolescent by the sailors on a German submarine, and then returned months later to his astonished family. A woman often mistaken for Eva Braun first embraces the similarity and then disguises it. A centenarian recalls visiting the United States in 1935 to research "the oratorical styles of black preachers in the South" for the benefit of Hitler. Garcia (Dreaming in Cuban) evokes a multicultural Berlin, shaped by those who arrived in East Berlin from Cuba, Angola, and Russia. The novel's many excellent characters and their stories combine to create a sense of a city where, as an amnesiac photojournalist puts it, the ghosts "aren't confined to cemeteries." (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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