Berlin-based author Olivia Wenzel writes theater texts and prose. 1000 coils of fear (translated by Priscilla Layne) is her first novel. The book is told, for the most part, in the form of dialogic call-and-response. Some of the events are told in real-time, while others are flashbacks. The unnamed protagonist is the narrator of the story. Sometimes she is in Berlin, sometimes in Thuringia, sometimes in the USA, in Morocco or Vietnam. No matter where she finds herself, the main character is always grappling with her identity and her accumulated anxieties. The novel deals with the socio-cultural experiences of being Black in a predominantly white society, and growing up as a Black child of a white mother in the GDR. It also confronts personal narratives such as the suicide of her twin brother, and relationships with family members, friends and partners.
The dialogic form of the text creates different effects. On the one hand, it seems like self-reflexive inner dialog, like constant self-assessment. On the other hand, the protagonist seems to defend herself throughout, as if someone is forcing her to make a statement. The questioning voice not only repeatedly wants to know where the protagonist is, what she does and why, it is uncompromisingly inquisitive: “What are you dreaming about?”, “Do you have a gun?”, “Are you nervous?”, “And now?”.
The protagonist wants to face her fears and finally sleep through the night again. She gets support from friends and tries to start therapy. After several attempts and some racist incidents with white therapists, she succeeds. She hopes for a discussion with her mother, thinks about her conflict-laden family history and realizes that everyone carries emotional baggage.
1000 coils of fear powerfully communicates that it takes strength and support to make it through life when one’s family has to deal with racism on top of the consequences of war and regime change. Despite the protagonist’s tragic family history, the novel manages to maintain a sense of humor. It is an enriching book that takes a critical look at German society.
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