First Sentence: I saw Hitler at a time when the Reichstag was little more than a burnt, skeletal silhouette of its former self and the Brandenburg Gate obstructed passage rather than granted it.
This book opens with a brief prologue set in 1986 when Tatiana, the narrator, is on holidays with her family in Berlin. She is only a teenager at the time and while on the U-Bahn she thinks she sees Hitler dressed in old woman’s clothes. Clearly this cannot be, but she is pretty adamant, and it is an image that stays with her long after she returns home to Mexico. This memory may even be what compels Tatiana to move to Berlin when she is older and finished college. It is in modern-day Berlin that this novel is primarily set and like the incident on the train, there are a lot of events that take place where the reader is left uncertain as to whether or not they are actually real. Tatiana herself is a solitary person and even considered moving to a forest before settling on Berlin. The forest was appealing as there would be:
[...] far fewer faces and voices, only the imperceptible cries of ants, the footsteps of spiders and the sound of trees growing.
At the same time however she fears what this type of extreme isolation might do to her mental stability:
[...] the madness that remote places cultivate is not to be taken lightly and I’ve always found something particularly disquieting in madness left to quietly ferment on its own; the social functions required of us help us maintain, at the very least, an illusion of normality[...]
For this reason she picks Berlin over the forest and begins working for a Doktor Weiss, transcribing his notes for him and eventually conducting interviews on his behalf. One of these interviewees is ‘ant illustrator turned meteorologist’ Jonas, a man with a passion for clouds who she becomes friendly with. These three people, Doktor Weiss, Tatiana, and Jonas, will have a profound impact on each other as their lives intersect in different ways. Ultimately this is a poetic, understated, meditative tale about Tatiana, a lonely young Mexican girl who is finding her way in a strange city, and is definitely worth a look.
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