The Atlantic

The Decades-Old Novel That Presages Today’s Fight for Facts

Uwe Johnson’s magnum opus Anniversaries, which catalogs the life of its protagonist for the span of a year, is a sharp exploration of the daily effort to preserve shared truths.
Source: AP / Arsh Raziuddin / The Atlantic

European modernists used the novel as a means of mapping metropolitan experience. From James Joyce’s immortalizing of “dear, dirty Dublin” in , to the grimy urban paean of Alfred Döblin’s , to Robert Musil’s elegy for imperial Vienna in , the city was no longer merely decorative scrim but a collaborative possibility, the ideal vessel for consciousness. Uwe Johnson’s , a sprawling novel about an East German émigré and her 10-year-old daughter as they navigate life on New York’s Upper West Side, is a natural heir to this tradition, if an unruly one. Johnson pairs the book’s late-modern élan—its complexity of structure, its synchronicities and leaps in time—with an uncommon commitment to the simplicity and moral necessity of facts, “the mirror of daily events.” Its unlikely, which Gesine, an admiring if astringent reader, calls “our tried and true supplier of reality.”

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