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  • Location: Berlin

Half A World Away

Why a Booktrail?

1987: Being different can be dangerous…

  • ISBN: 978-0995751088
  • Genre: Fiction

What you need to know before your trail

Charming and talented Alex dreams of becoming a professional saxophonist while working long hours in the family bakery. Detlef, lonely, repressed, and a small-time Stasi informer, develops an obsessive love for him. But Alex has eyes only for Nicky, an English woman visiting East Berlin as an au pair. With no natural outlet for his feelings, Detlef’s passion becomes destructive, his need for approval enmeshed with the latent homophobia of the regime. As Alex takes up with more successful musicians, he moves closer to influences considered subversive by a state that has eyes and ears everywhere, and Detlef’s passions threaten to endanger them all.

Travel Guide

Berlin

Many novels have been written describing and evoking life in the divided Germany but this one concentrates on the  divisions both in plain sight and hidden in East Berlin. What would it have been like to live under such conditions behind the Iron Curtain.

“The statute of Lenin they’d passed earlier, the steel and glass ball at the top of the concrete tower in Alexanderplatz that you could see everywhere you went, the grand scale of the buildings onKarl-Marx Allee – they were all to show how successful the GDR was. It was all architectural propaganda”

Nicky had been told that the city is full of people who live in soulless high-rise blocks, especially those in East Germany. She has been told all kinds of untruths but admits that she doesn’t really know what goes on behind the Iron Curtain. She is in the city as an au pair and see the city through an outsider’s eyes.

Working under the eyes of the GDR

Detleft has to struggle more than most with life under the GDR. He is in the most precarious of positions – as a secret informer and also as a secret gay man. He works in a factory and dreams of working in a  greater role for the GDR, to have a uniform and a job that was vitally important to ” the ongoing success of his country and his people”. He dreams of being a bigger cog:

“The GDR was like an efficiently functioning machine in that respect”

This is a city where everywhere you go, the  red, yellow and black flags with the emblem of the GDR hanging from every lamp-post and buildings.If you don’t follow the rules, if you break the rules, if you are gay and therefore don’t even fit in with any of the rules, then life can get very dangerous indeed. Discovery would mean instant death.

Streetview Maps

D) Berlin - Karl Marx Allee
H) Berlin - Checkpoint Charlie

Booktrailer Review

Susan: @thebooktrailer

What an insightful read. I’ve read many novels set in Berlin before the wall came down, but not quite like this. It’s a story of many sides, seen through the eyes of many different people. Alex and his music, his love for Nicky and the difficulty of living under the conditions of the war. The GDR are ever watchful, always present and Nicky having come to the country as an au pair has heard many rumours of what life is like before she sees it.  Alex is caught up in the world of music, an escape, a way of expressing himself in a country without a clear direction.

Delft is perhaps the most interesting character – working as a Stasi informer but with visions of grandeur trying hard to get a better and bigger role, trying to be in the party itself. He falls in love with Alex but then is torn by the love of his country. This is not a safe country for gay people by any means. The circle created by Alex, Nicky and Delft is fascinating and has a certain air of uncertainty and fear about it – very apt to the situation of course at the time.

The time and setting of the novel is fascinating. The wall , as we know would come down, only a few years after the novel begins, so that air of expectancy adds an extra air of frisson to the entire story. It’s a snapshot of a time we think we know a lot about. From a different angle this time, and it’s an eye opener.

Booktrail Boarding Pass:  Half a World Away

Destination : Berlin   Author/Guide: Sue Haasler  Departure Time: 1987

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