Snowleg Hardcover – Mar 15 2004
|New from||Used from|
No Kindle device required. Download one of the Free Kindle apps to start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, and computer.
To get the free app, enter your e-mail address or mobile phone number.
From Publishers Weekly
The personal and the political clash in this sometimes haunting but often baffling novel about Peter Hithersay, an English teenager, and his one-night encounter with an East German girl, known to him only by her nickname, "Snowleg," in 1983. She begs him to take her back to the West; for reasons he can't quite fathom himself—and which will haunt him for the next 20 years—he refuses (indeed, he publicly rejects her) and loses his chance at what appears to be love at first sight. Peter may have been re-creating his mother's experience: she had a brief affair with an East German (Peter was the result) and never saw him again, and Peter's trip behind the Iron Curtain is driven by the desire to learn something, anything, about his German father. Later, he essentially gives up England and his affable family, becoming a doctor in West Germany, where he strives (mostly unsuccessfully) to build meaningful relationships of his own. The strongest narrative thread, Peter's search for Snowleg, is compelling enough, but accounts for a small fraction of the plot. Shakespeare (The Dancer Upstairs) deftly captures both the paranoia and the material and cultural poverty of East Germany as well as Peter's existential struggle to find his place in the world, but the haphazard story line fails to compel.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* Like Michael Ondaajte in The English Patient (1992) and Shirley Hazzard in The Great Fire [BKL S 1 03], Shakespeare (The Dancer Upstairs, 1997) here weds a formal, detached prose style to a deeply romantic theme; the result is a powerful, ethereal love story set against the twisted politics of East Germany under communism. British student Peter Hithersay learns on his sixteenth birthday that his real father was an East German political prisoner, and his life is never the same. Developing an obsession with all things German, he opts to attend medical school in Hamburg. Lured to Leipzig by a theatrical troupe and his own desire to see the scene of his mother and father's brief tryst, he ends up falling in love with a willful, passionate young woman nicknamed Snowleg. But at a crucial moment in their relationship, he fails her. For the next 20 years, he struggles on all fronts, succumbing to drug addiction and a series of empty affairs. Shakespeare paints an especially chilling picture of the repressed lives of East Germans, one in which a young girl's straightforward declaration of love takes on near-heroic stature. A beautifully written, utterly compelling story of love and politics. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
During his third year of medical school, members of a traveling mime troupe invite him to accompany them on a trip to Leipzig, where his unnamed father had been arrested. Though he has been warned about the secret police, the constant spying on foreigners, and the dangers of going off on his own, the 22-year-old Peter, nevertheless, falls passionately in love with a young East German, whose Icelandic nickname, "Snjolaug," sounds to him like "Snowleg." At the end of his four-day trip to Leipzig, however, he leaves her, only to spend the next twenty years dreaming about finding her again.
Peter's search for Snowleg, and secondarily, for his father alternate with flashbacks and memories, as the relationship of Peter and Snowleg unfolds. The role of the secret police in their separation and the conflicts between the original ideal of communism and its later cynical implementation are shown through Uwe and Hesse, two secret policemen, who appear in the prologue and in the conclusion and provide fresh perspective on the action, elevating this novel above the typical love story.
The vibrancy of Shakespeare's prose makes every page of this novel a delight to read. Filled with irony and, often, humor, the dialogue comes alive. Unforgettable descriptions, especially of the darkness, cold, and soot in Leipzig, reveal feelings as well as convey information. To Peter, listening to the radio, a love song "had red eyes and ran furtively across his mind...It was a rat dressed up as a promise." Repeating motifs--a van with a fish painted on it, a dying deer, the story of Sir Bedevere, a fur coat, and the bones of a muskrat--echo throughout the novel and connect scenes symbolically.
Like most romances, the story relies on coincidence and fortuitous accident, but Shakespeare's writing is so strong and the story is so exciting that even the most jaded reader will willingly accept the implausibilities. In the UK, where the book has been out since January, the judging panel for the Man Booker Prize has selected this novel for its longlist for best novel of the year. Mary Whipple
This is a strongly narrated book, with an excellent sense of social atmosphere, mostly well-drawn characters, and enough mystery to keep one reading compulsively. Peter's life in between the two Leipzig visits, finding success as a doctor and lover but little happiness as a person, is especially convincing, although he is not very likeable in this phase. Probably the best part of the book comes just at the end of this nineteen-year sojourn when he takes a very old dying woman as a patient. Although the fact that she is able to give him the first clues to start him once more on the trail of Snowleg stretches coincidence a little far, the quality of the relationship itself is so tender that it doesn't matter.
But once he goes back to Leipzig to hunt for Snowleg, the texture changes. Mostly now he meets with strangers, interviewing them, looking for clues. Too much gets told; not enough shown. At the point where most novels would be concerned with emotional resolution, this one suddenly reverts to belated exposition. This alters the pace of the book to the point where even the beautiful and surprisingly subtle ending cannot work as it should. A pity, but it is an absorbing story even so.
I find myself thinking of Ian McEwan, most especially his ATONEMENT. There, as here, a single selfish action causes suffering which must wait several decades before it can be atoned for. In both books, too, it is left to the reader to judge whether the atonement is adequate, and I find this a little bit of a problem. But SNOWLEG, like the McEwan book and Shakespeare's earlier THE DANCER UPSTAIRS, is a serious novel in that it raises significant moral and political questions in personal terms.
For sure, life for Peter loses all semblence of normality until his soul is settled. Till then, he sleepwalks through life as in a state of suspended animation. He conveniently forgets he has a loving family back home in England. As a medical student in Germany, he wanders through a series of half-hearted affairs with some of the most selfish and unsavoury women you can possibly imagine and even manages to sire a son. Only when he connects with an old lady he is treating does he unknowingly stumble upon the first clue that will lead him to one of two people he is searching for...and then not. Find out for yourself. Shakespeare's reliance on chance and coincidence to make this plot connection is possibly a weakness but one we all too readily forgive for the romantic resonance it brings to Peter's story.
Those who have read "Stasiland", Anna Funder's wonderful piece of investigative journalism, will also appreciate the heightened sense of drama brought upon by the post-1989 confession of those who had spied for the regime and lived through a chapter of recent history from behind the Walls. The cataclysm visited upon the lives of East Germans since the Wall came down couldn't be more contrasting against the relative stability of England.
The parallel between Peter's story and that of his mother's says something about the cyclicity and the folly of love and life. She has learnt to let go. He must do too. One's self identity can only be redeemed from within, the novelist seems to be saying.
"Snowleg" is a beautifully written novel. Definitely one to be read and savoured. Recommended.