Black Deutschland by Darryl Pinckney (2016). A review by John Cook

Black Deutschland

This was a troubling read for me. The author comes with high credibility in the areas of essay and review writing though with limited novel experience. It may well be that it is the author’s extensive knowledge and experience of Black American life, society, culture and history was part of the problem as I am severely lacking in that respect. Certainly, it seems to be that it puts the average white non-American reader at a disadvantage to detect and respond to the nuances of this work.

There is little grand narrative to be found – rather, for me, it read as the musings of a mid-western US black man (Chicago) who feels apart from his largely successful and involved family. He makes at least two journeys to Germany (Berlin), one while younger with a white wine addiction (now I am frightening myself) and a later sojourn post rehab (though not without some continuing substance use). He has a family contact in Berlin who can be helpful but also a source of angst (there is a lot of that in the less than 200 pages of this small format book).

There is a great deal here to enjoy the acquaintance especially with regard to the glimpses into his formative life and sometimes whacky family. Likewise, I enjoyed many aspects of the lives of students, refugees and innovators in 80s Berlin.

When Pinchey settles to a topic or description he often does quite well. What makes much of it non-productive and irritating is the forced nature of his expression and grammar which often go out of their way to be confusing without much purpose except, perhaps, to slow the reader done. This certainly happened to me many, many times and I found myself willing myself to continue on and through the annoyance.

I am sure readers with more background knowledge and experience will get more for their money while I was limited to occasional delights and insights. Similarly, for a novel that initially talked about going to Berlin for the boys, there is very little sex though a deal of striving to ‘find’ himself . The central character is sexually capable in either direction but lusts after classic white German men but eventually has a doomed affair with a young French part Negro student. Certainly it is mostly angst once again.

This is a hard book to recommend as I feel the average Australian reader might well give up on it relatively early. However, it does have its worthwhile aspects while requiring more than usual attention and dedication.


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