‘The Tower stands as a monument against forgetting’ claimed Le Monde. A bold statement if ever there was one, and I had my doubts as to whether the novel could really be this powerful. The fact that it won the German Book Prize in 2008 suggested that it could be. For the 25th anniversary since the fall of the Berlin wall, Uwe Tellkamp’s monumental work has been translated and published in English for the first time, and is an apt and historically important novel that truly captures the essence East German experience.
The Tower follows the lives of four family members – mother, father, son and uncle – living in Dresden’s middle class tower district in the run up to the 9th of November 1989. The first five pages that form the overture could put the reader off, the amount of description used is at first overwhelming. However, the short chapters keep the book moving along quickly and the book became easily readable.
Tellkamp’s writing is superb; the spaces described vividly came to life with very little effort. The third person narrative also worked extremely well; despite becoming emotionally connected to the characters, there remained a constant feeling of being an outsider looking in. The implication being that unless you had actually lived in the GDR, it was difficult to imagine the strain of life under the soviet regime.
The novel takes time to get into, and to fully connect with the characters. However, after the initial few pages, I began to form a bond, and by the end of the novel these people seemed so real I was surprised to look up from the final pages and find them no longer with me.
The novel provides an acute insight into the realities of living in the GDR in 1989; from the anxieties about informers, as many different characters are accused of being throughout, to restrictions on what was acceptable to talk about, evident from the very beginning of the novel with Anne’s warning to Richard that he should not speak so loudly of politics.
At a thousand pages long, this book is not one you would want to turn to for a bit of light reading. It is a novel that would requires investment over a considerable amount of time. However, it is worth every single second. The importance of remembering the difficulty ordinary people faced in simply trying to live their lives under any oppressive regime cannot be overstated, and this novel manages to accomplish this task perfectly. There is simply no way to recommend The Tower enough.
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