In Young Light, novelist Ralf Rothmann paints a delicate portrait of a twelve-year-old boy named Julian growing up in a mining community in 1960s Germany. The book covers only a few summer weeks, following Julian’s gradual social and sexual awakening amidst his parent’s financial and marital problems. Avoiding any overt drama in the description of his predicaments and observations, Rothmann instead creates a quiet sense of hope and new beginnings. His subtle, restrained prose captures the unarticulated, yet increasingly conscious feelings of the boy as he approaches the end of childhood, but still remains very remote from the adult world he sees around him. From his stressed, exhausted mother to their suspicious neighbour Herr Gorny, the adult characters remind him of his own powerlessness rather than offering encouragement; but his little sister Sophie proves his most devoted ally, gently standing up to their mother’s fits of rage. As the novel progresses, Julian becomes increasingly aware of the weaknesses and failures of the adults; despite his difficulties in understanding what goes on around him, one senses a wisdom and integrity that sets him apart from many of the other characters in his life. Rothmann’s refreshingly unpretentious style offers the perfect medium for this portrait of ambivalent youthful consciousness.
‘More slice of life than novel, this tale, translated from the German, tells the story of a small coal-mining community in 1968 Germany from the viewpoint of 12-year-old Julian [. . .] Always true to the young boy’s coming-of-age, the stirring drama is in the anger, the universality of small things.’ —Booklist
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