Young Micha Kuppisch lives on the Sonnenallee, whose long end extends beyond the Berlin Wall outside his apartment building. Micha is desperate for one thing: a love letter that may or may not have been meant for him, and may or may not have been written by the most beautiful girl on the Sonnenallee. Stolen by a gust of wind before he could open it, the letter now lies on the fortified 'death strip' at the base of the Wall, as close as the freedoms of the West and seemingly no more attainable.
The Short End of the Sonnenallee understandably takes its readers’ grasp of East German realities on trust. It does no more than nod to the wider backdrop behind Micha’s youth. For foreign readers now, the book’s genial refusal to fret about the gloomy big picture adds to a certain fairy-tale quality ... In fairness to Mr. Brussig, he takes as read—and converts into comedy—the stress and fear to which readers far from 1980s Berlin may seek clearer signposts. Pay attention and you glimpse the implacable bureaucracy of an all-controlling state ... Mr. Franzen and Ms. Watson’s translation keeps up an idiomatic swagger and ebullient good humor. Mr. Brussig’s upbeat tale of life a few yards behind the Iron Curtain celebrates not the GDR regime but the sheer resilience that allows prisoners—of any system—to find inner freedom behind bars.
Comedy, which comes through perfectly in the sharp translation, is essential to Brussig’s project as he subverts the dread and paranoia of East German life by portraying a small world with love, tenderness, and humor hidden within it. There’s a lot to love in this flipping of the Cold War script.