St. Louis author's 'tawdry' memoir explores her love of German culture and literature
As a college junior Rebecca Schuman found herself in peak-hipster Berlin, sitting in a dark, smoke-filled bar where patrons ordered Heineken through a hole in the wall. She’d wanted to live “Iggy Pop’s Berlin,” and to do that she wanted to find living space in a loft.
A friend told her that people in a a local collective living space was looking for a new roommate That’s how she found herself sitting across from a guy named Johannes who had, “shock of bright blond hair that stuck out in the electrified curls about six inches in all directions.”
Schuman recounts the experience and a number of other anecdotes in “Schadenfreude, A Love Story,” a memoir. She'll discuss the book Sunday during a book launch at Urban Chestnut in The Grove.
The book is the story of a teenage Jewish intellectual who, while in high school, falls in love with a boy who breaks her heart, with a difficult language — and its writers.
"Then we broke up and it was horrible," she recalled. "And I was like, 'This is the worst thing that's ever happened to anyone ever, but at least I still have these German authors.'"
The enduring love led her to Germany.
Throughout her memoir, Schuman teases out the awkward, endearing ridiculousness that can occur when a person loves an entire culture’s literature, but the response of that culture is ambivalent at best.
"I like to think of it as a German literature and philosophy primer disguised as a tawdry memoir," Schuman said.
In the book, readers meet Johannes: “A broken front tooth, delicate cheekbones, and skin tight jeans covered in multicolored patches, in the manner of early season Punky Brewster.”
They also encounter Dieter from Hamburg: “ baby-face clashing with his black leather jacket."
Then there's Leonie: “a formidable urban planning student an eco-warrior with a crew cut and a permanent scowl, who I quickly gathered was the Loftboss.”
“Schadenfreude, A Love Story” also describes how Schuman recognized her need for a rigorous academic career as a means of growing up.
Each chapter of the book is organized by a difficult-to-define German word with the hope that the experiences and feelings described within the section help English speakers learn the definition of that word.
Schuman, who holds a doctorate in German from the University of California, later became a professor of German literature. After nine years, she gave up her academic career. She now writes for Slate.
If you go
What: "Schadenfreude, A Love Story" book launch
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Urban Chestnut Brewery and Bierhall
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