Sky Glow (Streulicht) – The German novel looks at class society with a fresh pair of eyes

Deniz Ohde’s debut novel Sky glow (Streulicht), published in August 2020, offers an innovative and original look at German class society and its bad moods.

The novel received the ZDF television network Appearance Literary Prize in 2020, as well as Literary Prize of the Jürgen Ponto Foundation. Ohde’s work has also been shortlisted for the prestigious German Book Prize, has been translated into five languages ​​and was staged as a play last year. (Example of English translation here.)

Sky glow (Streulicht), Deniz Ohde

Sky glow it is part of a literary vein centered once again on the life and experiences of workers.

Deniz Ohde, born in Frankfurt am Main in 1988, the daughter of a chemical worker and a Turkish mother, sees the narrator in first person return to her father’s house for a short visit at the beginning of what is clearly a semi-autobiographical novel .

The fragmentary memories are evoked in a very immediate and sensual way as soon as she arrives in the area where she grew up. “The air changes when you enter the city.” You can smell the immediate vicinity of a gigantic chemical industry plant, which German readers will easily recognize as the Höchst Industrial Park on the site of the former Farbwerke Hoechst AG in Frankfurt.

It’s not just the acid smell, the permanent buzz and the diffused light that the industrial zone (home to dozens of chemical and pharmaceutical companies) casts on its surroundings at night, that leave their mark on the people who live in the neighbourhood. Nor is it simply the recurring chemical accident drills, the vouchers issued by the industrial park to the population when the air is too polluted, or the stench from its waste incineration plant…

Feelings of discrimination and oppression, of shame and helplessness, emerge with a vengeance. “Even my face changes,” the narrator explains, “in the sign of the city, hardening into the expression my father taught me, a look of anxious indifference he wears himself whenever he ventures out, a look to stop you to be seen.”

Nominally, Ohde recounts the stifling path through “education” institutions and his failure on the formal educational path. But right from the start, this experience connects with an image of contemporary society at a deeper level, which Ohde alludes to through a rich imagery that is sometimes poetically picturesque, sometimes frenetic or enigmatically humorous.

The narrator’s two childhood and later teenage friends, Sophia and Pikka, move effortlessly from one grade to the next, but her bad report card prevents her from transferring to a higher grade. The verdict without appeal, “I have to leave this type of school!”, catapults her out of the community of friends forever. Her failure leads initially to shock, breakdown and depression, but gradually also to self-confident understanding and resistance.

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