Somewhere in Brooklyn, the Brittana fan fiction has ended
USA 1999 | 384 pages
OT: "Motherless Brooklyn"
Translated by Michael Zöllner
Context is the be-all and end-all.(Page 7)
MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN, with whom Jonathan Lethem achieved his international breakthrough in 1999, was recommended to me, not as a book but as a film tip. But since I am a great advocate of the motto "First the book, then the film", the novel had to be found first.
The main character and first-person narrator of the book is Lionel Essrog, a petty crook and henchman of the somewhat larger petty crook Frank Minna, who runs a dubious transport company in Brooklyn. For Lionel and his colleagues, Minna is something of a surrogate father, because he brought them from an orphanage many years ago. Since then they have been working for him and they call themselves Minna-Men.
Actually, the jobs that Minna gives them are both undemanding and risk-free: Transporting boxes from A to B - they don't ask any questions, Minna wouldn't answer them anyway. But at some point in the past Minna must have messed with the wrong people because one disastrous day he is ambushed and stabbed to death. Lionel is now on the trail as a hobby detective in order to expose those responsible for this cruel act. He speaks to potential witnesses, sneaks around and sticks his nose into all kinds of matters.
His problem - and the mainspring of the whole novel -: He suffers from Tourette's syndrome. Whenever his brain threatens to burst from sheer tension - which is almost a permanent condition for him - he shouts out a volley of wild words, twitches, has to touch, squeeze, pinch or kiss everything. That means, secretly poking around somewhere or shouting information out of the cross with the necessary emphasis is not so easy for Lionel. The fact that despite all the difficulties he does not give up trying to solve Minna's death shows how important this man must have been to him.
Did I mention that I hate reading crime fiction? I don't like these fixed structures and that in the end something always has to be clarified, closed or dissolved. There are seldom any questions left unanswered in this genre. For my taste it's so far from life that I don't care. If only the words Commissioner or »The umpteenth case for so and so« stand on the book cover, I'm out.
MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN also has all these crime thriller elements, and in the meantime I was really annoyed by this need for clarification. In addition, Jonathan Lethem (* 1964) provides his readership with a successful description of a disease that has been ridiculed for years. Lethem does not approach the diagnosis dryly, but in a very personal, almost poetic way with a good dose of humor. In no way does he make fun of Tourette, on the contrary: he promotes understanding. The first few pages alone taught me a lot about this disease - what exactly is happening there and how I, as an outsider, can approximately imagine it. I think that's the book's big win - apart from the story itself, which is easy to read, but silts up in an intentionally bizarre way towards the end.
Now, twenty years after the novel was published, none other than Edward Norton dared to make it into the film. After the movie milestone FIGHT CLUB at the latest, Norton will be one of my Hollywood favorites, so I was immediately pricked up my ears and watched the film right after reading it. And what can I say ... It really seldom happens that a literary film adaptation is better than its original, but this time it is exactly the case. Norton - Director, Screenplay and Leading Role! - moves the story from the dirty nineties to the stylish fifties and takes away the above mentioned bizarre. (Instead of fighting an Asian seafood company, Lionel is now fighting a merciless real estate shark; this makes the story more complex, more serious and, above all, more believable.) And here, too, Tourette is not amused. Norton, who is not playing a disabled person for the first time, always gives his Lionel the depth and dignity it needs. respect is the magic word, both in the film and in the novel.
I can recommend both, but I thought the film was better.
MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN was published by Tropen Verlag. A paperback edition is now also available. Clicking on the cover picture takes you to the publisher's website, where you can find information about the book and author, as well as a reading sample. And one more small request: buy books in your local bookstores. The online giants are fed up already and your inner cities will thank you for it.
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