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Wolfgang Herrndorf Portrait  © © Scribe Publications  Wolfgang Herrndorf Portrait © Scribe Publications

Wolfgang Herrndorf: Why We Took the Car / Tschick

Translated by Tim Mohr
Why We Took the Car - book cover  © © Scribe Publications  Why We Took the Car - book cover © Scribe Publications
How did nice but boring fourteen-year-old Mike Klingenberg end up at the wheel of a stolen Lada hundreds of kilometers from his Berlin home? For his father, there is a simple explanation: Andrej Tschischaroff, commonly known as Tschick.
Whereas Mike is invisible to his parents, teachers and classmates, Tschick makes an immediate impression when he arrives midway through eighth grade at high school. An immigrant from Russia, he speaks with an accent and refuses to conform, showing no interest in popularity and little respect for the rules. His schoolwork ranges from brilliant to dismal, depending on how much he can be bothered and whether he is drunk.
When Tschick strolls into the Klingenbergs’ house, Mike is intimidated, then annoyed. The holidays have just started and he is looking forward to two whole weeks on his own. His mother has checked herself into a luxury rehab clinic, his father is on a fourteen-day ‘business trip’ with his extremely attractive PA, and Mike is planning to laze in the family’s outdoor pool, subsist on delivery pizza and wallow in his unrequited love for the most beautiful girl in the school. Instead he embarks on an adventure of a lifetime, hotwiring an apparently abandoned car and travelling south down the highway with Tschick. Their agreed destination is Romania, but they have no clear idea where it is.
For Mike and Tschick, it is a joyride in the best sense: they set off without a map or a cell phone, sleep under the stars, eat and drink whatever they like, meet extraordinary people, get separated and find each other. The justice system sees things differently: fourteen-year-olds are too young for the driver’s seat but not young enough to avoid criminal prosecution. Mike tells the story of their adventure and its consequences, constructing a crazy and compelling logic in which their joint decision to steal a car seems almost the height of good sense. His account is exuberant, full of surprises, funny and affecting, especially when their shared journey comes skidding to a halt and they are forced to take different routes.
Scribe Publications, 2014, 256 pp.

About the Author

Wolfgang Herrndorf (1965 – 2013) published his first novel in 2002. The award-winning and bestsellingTschick came out in 2010. By then, he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, but he completed work on another novel Sand and wrote a blog about his illness Arbeit und Struktur. He took his own life in 2013.

About the Translator

Tim Mohr lives in New York and works as a translator, ghost-writer and editor. His translations include recent books by Alina Bronsky and Charlotte Roche. You can read an interview with him about the process of translating Tschick and other novels at lovegermanbooks.

Bookshelf / Bücherregal

This month we look at some recent novels by winners of major German YA prizes. First up is Susan Kreller’s powerful debut about domestic violence. Readers of German may also be interested in her latest novel Schneeriese (Snow Giant), a story about the end of a childhood friendship that was awarded the prestigious Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis for the best new YA book of 2015. Our second recommendation is From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle by New Zealander Kate de Goldi. Her earlier novel The 10 PM Question won the Corine International YA award when it came out in German asAbends um 10.
You can't see Elephants - book cover © © Penguin New Zealand  You can't see Elephants - book cover © Penguin New Zealand
You Can’t See the Elephants (Elephanten sieht man nicht)
Susan Kreller
Tr. Elizabeth Gaffney
Penguin New Zealand, 2016

Stuck in an apparently sleepy village for the duration of the summer, thirteen-year-old Mascha realizes something is wrong with two of the local kids. She visits their house one day and sees their abusive father. None of the adults will acknowledge what is happening, so Mascha takes drastic action.
From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle - Buchcover  © © Longacre  From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle - Buchcover © Longacre
From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle
Kate de Goldi
Longacre, 2015

Barney Kettle is a young filmmaker who plans to be a famous director. While filming the daily life of the neighbourhood, he and his sister come across a real-life secret. Before they can finish their film, an earthquake hits the city and their footage becomes a tribute to lost places and people, among them characters we have come to love.

Text: Sally-Ann Spencer
Copyright: Goethe-Institut New Zealand, 2016