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The New Sorrows of Young W by Ulrich…

The New Sorrows of Young W (1973)

by Ulrich Plenzdorf

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
In the 70s cult hit Die neuen Leiden des jungen W., the East German author Ulrich Plenzdorf cleverly wove together elements of the plots of Werther and Robinson Crusoe to create East Berlin's comic answer to The catcher in the rye. The 17-year-old engineering apprentice Edgar Wibeau drops out of his training in a boring provincial small town and runs away to Berlin where he hopes to become an undiscovered genius. Unfortunately, he has no talent for painting, and what's more, he finds that he has forgotten to bring any books. After a long search, all he can find are the remains of a Reclam paperback hanging on a nail in the privy. The title page has already been used, but the book turns out to be an epistolary novel about some guy called Werther. Not a patch on his old friend J.D. Salinger, but it will have to do, and after a while, despite coming to the conclusion that Werther is a blithering idiot, Edgar finds himself captivated by the story. And then the plot of Werther starts inveigling its way into his own life, but not quite in the way we are expecting it to.

Again, this is probably a book you would enjoy most if you read it when you're young, but it's still a lot of fun even later in life (part of the joke is that Edgar takes it for granted that Salinger is a teenager like himself , but we know that both Salinger and Plenzdorf are writing as grown-ups...). Reading both books back to back, I particularly enjoyed the way Edgar makes liberal (mis-)use of quotations from Goethe throughout the book, but no-one ever recognises them. ( )
  thorold | Oct 1, 2016 |
Maybe I would have liked this more if I were younger, or if I remembered The Sorrows of Young Werther which I read a thousand years ago, or if I liked The Catcher in the Rye. It's well written, a cult classic in Europe, and I did like it but it doesn't inspire me to re-read forgotten books. Library book. ( )
  seeword | Aug 7, 2016 |
The New Sorrows of Young W. by Ulrich Plenzdorf is a recommended satirical novel that was originally published in 1972 in Germany. This re-released edition is translated from the German by Romy Fursland.

Edgar Wibeau, a 17 year old drop out, is found dead, electrocuted, inside a condemned building in Berlin with just a tape recorder and a battered copy of Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther. Edgar had previously sent tapes discussing his life to his friend Willi Linder. His father, hoping to find an explanation for his son's death, now listens to the tapes and retraces Edgar's travels, from Mittenberg to Berlin, since he left home. The voice of Edgar's spirit interjects comments and explanations along the way as his father visits Charlie, the kindergarten teacher Edgar loved, and Addi, Edgar's last employer.

The New Sorrows of Young W. is a parody of and follows The Sufferings of Young Werther. Goethe's work is often quoted along the way, creating a work of intertextuality between the two. Along with Young Wether, Plenzdorf also includes tie-ins to Salinger's Holden Caulfield, the standard for teen arrogance and angst. The result is a funny, absurd, and tragic coming of age story set in East Germany.

Having never read Goethe's original but well acquainted with Salinger, I found this novel amusing and entertaining. The whole part on blue jeans, how they should be worn and who can wear them was pretty funny, even as it served as a symbolic representation of communism in East Germany. While the novel is dated, it was interesting and insightful. It might be more entertaining if I had been a teenage boy.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Pushkin Press for review purposes. ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
The New Sorrows of Young W. is a modern-day (sort of) retelling of Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, which I had not read before but have now read. Goethe's work is a classic epistolary novel in which Werther tells the tale of his unrequited love for an engaged girl, a tale which ends with Werther's suicide. Ulrich Plenzdorf's version starts with the same structure (here, a series of tape-record "letters") and basic premise (young man dies after an unsuccessful love affair) but adds a new dimension by having the deceased Edgar Wideau address the reader directly. Edgar's voice is engaging and, at times quite funny; I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the "real" Edgar against the skewed perspective his father gleans from listening to Edgar's tapes and talking to his friends. The comparison is bittersweet; because Edgar's father abandoned him when he was five and seeks to know him only after he is dead, he ends up understanding less than we complete strangers who never knew Edgar in life. Edgar is far less pathetic than Werther; I don't miss Werther at all, but I think I would have liked the adult Edgar.

I received a free copy of The New Sorrows of Young W. through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  BrandieC | Aug 13, 2015 |
This is intended for an audience familiar with Goethe's "Werther". The hero, who finds this classic of Sturm and Drang being used for toilet paper in an outhouse, is in the middle of his own youthful rebellion against the absurdities of life in East Germany, and from then on his life takes on a strange turn. As a joke he sends his closest friend recordings of passages from the novel, and the friend in turn, unable to make sense of the archaic language, asks for the key to the code he used. But the hero himself soon ends up unwittingly reenacting Werther's story. Part of the fun, for the reader, is in identifying these episodes and in the parodic confrontation of the present with Germany's cultural legacy. The story is told in an unconventional, highly colloquial style which has its own sort of vigorous beauty. One of the narrator's influences is Salinger; at times, this shows.
  spiphany | Oct 8, 2010 |
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Brunt, NiniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0881338915, Paperback)

One of the most talked-about works ever published in the German Democratic Republic! This innovative novel by an East German writer is a worthy companion to the classic it parodies and parallels: Goethe's The Sufferings of Young Werther. Goethe and J. D. Salinger were the two greatest influences on Edgar Wibeau, "Young W." Edgar is a 17-year-old with the frustrations of teenagers all over the world, living with the added pressures of an East-bloc state. A model all-GDR boy, the son of a factory director, he suddenly drops out. But not from socialism per se--just from conformity, picky regulations, and official disapproval of jeans, the blues, and girls. Hiding out, he finds and devours an old copy of The Sufferings of Young Werther. From then on he wards off reality with Goethe texts, and young Wibeau's fate is superimposed on that of Werther like a transparent overlay. It is an ironic and revealing linkage.

Titles of related interest from Waveland Press: Goethe, Gotz von Berlichingen: A Play (ISBN 9780881335415); Hauptmann, Three Plays [The Weavers, Hannele, and The Beaver Coat] (ISBN 9780881335408); and Novalis, Henry von Ofterdingen: A Novel (ISBN 9780881335743).

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:07 -0400)

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This innovative novel by an East German writer became one of the most talked-about works ever published in the German Democratic Republic.

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