Chilling between mountain and valley
Julia lives for her clique and for music. She wants to be a rapper, thinking there’s nothing else she can do. The approaching final exams at school leave her cold. Julia lives the normal life of a teenager in the Austrian provinces. But what is normal anyway?
By Swantje Schütz
At first, 2001 reads like a book for young people, but actually, it’s a book about young people. The kids’ language and listlessness, behaviour and interests – drinking, smoking, rapping, smooching – may need some getting used to for readers who are a few years older. But soon, alongside a few eyeopeners and aha moments, solidarity sets in. Tough talk, with an ”old geezer“ here and an “old geezer“ there, brutal words and actions, and sometimes shocking apathy, lethargy and youthful ignorance, pervade Angela Lehner’s second novel. It takes great linguistic skill to come across as being authentically uneducated. This writer has that skill.
ROLEPLAyThe start of the novel is quite leisurely, as leisurely as youthful existence can be in a provincial part of Austria when you’re too young for many things – at least for things that are allowed. The reader is gradually introduced to the “clique“ who live in a place called Tal (i.e. “Valley”) somewhere in the mountains. Its members are Tarek, Bene, Melli, Hannes, Andreas, Michael and his sister Julia, the protagonist. She calls herself and her class “residual waste“, often skips school, which she calls “having a holiday”, and takes little interest in world events. Until her history teacher starts an experiment in which everyone takes on the role of a personality or institution in international affairs, such as Bill Clinton, Gerhard Schröder or a press observer. This roleplay brings momentum into their mediocre school existence, leading to discussions and differences of opinion. Apparently for the first time, the youngsters reflect on something other than where to get “beer without resistance“. It’s not easy for young people to find their niche. In Julia’s opinion, it’s even harder to find a place to drink unhindered.
SELF-DISCOVERY IN A PARENTLESS WORLDThings are sometimes long-drawn-out at the beginning of the book, but this apparent uneventfulness is simply a precise description of the situation. Lehner is witty, and so is her language. The blurb describing it as ”unmistakable sound“ is spot-on. The Austrian author naturally does not provide a translation for north German readers of words such as Tschick, seas and tu weiter, words pleasantly familiar to this reviewer, who grew up near the Austrian border. Tschick means cigarette, as everyone knows. Bavarians understand Seas to be a greeting, because they say Servus themselves. And tu weiter (meaning “keep doing what you’re doing”) is just a lovely Austrian expression.
Only slowly do readers get to know the 15 to 18-year-olds doing the usual things boys and girls do at their age. Their process of self-discovery is well under way. Some are hardworking, aiming for university entrance qualifications or a good school-leaving certificate, while others are the opposite. Julia‘s brother Michael attends grammar school and the two of them live in a parentless world, just as all the other youngsters live in an almost parentless world. They have to fend for themselves at school and in everyday life – things like shopping without much money, preparing food or going to the optician.
2001 has nine sections, each with a heading named after a month. The book ends on 11 September. But before that, in August, readers are taken out of their comfort zone. The chips are down. So please read this book.
Angela Lehner: 2001. Roman
Berlin: Hanser, 2021. 384 p.
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