Monday, July 21, 2008

'You gotta have balls'

After spending most of the first half of this year reading psychological, neurological, and musicological textbooks (and any other 'ologies' you may think of), it was a relief sweeping past the tables of paperbacks at Dussmann's in Berlin a couple of weeks ago to just get some reading books. It's a huge shop over 5 floors, styling itself the Kulturkaufhaus (also got my CDs and my Beethoven scores while I was at it), and just as an afterthought I looked at this table laden with books and found three, two of which at least seem to be very good and funny. I can do with funny at the moment!

Lily Brett's 'Chuzpe' (in German) or 'You gotta have balls' is wonderful! It's about a neurotic New York Jewish lady, Ruth, with an eating disorder (only eats green stuff) and her 87-year-old father who is a holocaust survivor. As the author says, if your parents survived the camps, you have no chance to ever complain about suffering yourself. Ruth runs a business writing letters for people. Her father who has lived in Israel for all the post-holocaust period, comes to live in New York and drives her crazy, helping out in her business, full of good ideas (he thinks) and overdoing everything. Then, suddenly, he shows up less at her work, and she starts to worry. Even more so when two ladies, who they met in Poland in a remembrance visit the previous year, show up and move in with the father. When one of these ladies, Zofia (69), tells her about the wonderful sex she has with Ruth's father, the world just about melts down. Then it turns out that the three elderly folk have a business idea.....and all Ruth's friends and relations think that the old folk are just wonderful.

The book is really funny, and unputdownable. Ruth lives from one anxiety to the next and is constantly fretting about her body, her father, her business and about her husband who is far away in Australia. The fretting increases as the business idea develops. It must have been really difficult to translate the book given that the father only speaks fractured English, and considering the New Yorkisms in it. The name of the business 'you gotta have balls' loses something (about 90%) in the German translation 'Klops muss der Mensch haben'.

It's quite similar to Maryna Lewycka's 'A short history of tractors in Ukrainian', what with the daughter of a person from Eastern Europe having to deal with her father's desire to link back to the olden days (even if the olden days, in Poland, were not particularly wonderful). Here, however, the outcome is better - and the book is very New York and very Jewish. Fantastic for a pleasant read!