Is love ultimately a futile pursuit
The first love (after 19 unsuccessful attempts)
Süddeutsche Zeitung | Meeting of March 27, 2007Way out of the maze
"One like Alaska", the furious debut novel by the American author John Green
Miles isn't exactly what you'd call a cool guy. He is skinny, good at school and has a morbid hobby: He collects the last words of famous people. No traits with which a newcomer to the Culver Creek boarding school would have a good chance of avoiding the harassment of the "day offenders". Those slick children from a rich family who already look like golfing lawyers at the age of 16. Especially not if you also share the room with Chip, the "Colonel", who hates all the snotty Reichensöhnchen. But the Colonel has other advantages: He's a really good friend. And he has a girlfriend who nearly drives Miles crazy: Alaska. A girl like a hurricane. Spirited, enigmatic, clever - and incredibly sexy. Miles is in love on the spot. But Alaska seems as inaccessible as the distant, cool state she bears, and of course she has an older boyfriend. But it is precisely with his shyness and his funny hobby that Miles goes down well with Alaska: They become friends. And maybe a little more.
At boarding school, Miles finally gets to know “the big maybe” that he had moved out to find: carefree hanging out with each other, the first secret cigarette, pranks, night smooching in the barn. And he gets to know the dark side of love: the unfulfilled, nagging longing. What happens then is far worse than the fact that Alaska doesn't seem to love Miles.
“Eine wie Alaska”, John Green's debut novel, is ostensibly a wonderfully authentic, exciting and atmospherically dense story about first love, friendship and growing up. But even the chapter headings, which do not count forwards, but first backwards to one day zero, and then forwards again (from "one hundred and thirty-six days before" to "one hundred and thirty-six days after"), herald a deep turning point in the lives of young people. After that, nothing is what it was before. The questions Miles now has to face revolve around responsibility, betrayal and a guilt that can never be made good. Is what we think we know about someone the truth? How do we live with the fact that we will never know the answer to some questions? And: "How do I get out of this labyrinth?" It is the question that the independence fighter Simon Bolivar asked shortly before his death, the question that Alaska asked Miles. But: which labyrinth is Bolivar talking about?
John Green has achieved a small literary miracle with his first novel, for which he has received a whole series of prizes and which is read at school in America. He manages the feat of telling a story that contains so much tragedy with such a pointed joke that the reader has to laugh even at passages that are actually sad to howl.
Perhaps the reason is that John Green, who is only 27 years old and is still close to his characters, was confronted with grief and death early in his life. As a minister in a children's hospital, he made, as he once said in an interview, "making a living by dying young children." The impotence in the face of the suffering of others finally led him to the decision to become a writer. A good decision, no doubt about it. In Sophie Zeitz's sensitive translation, which skilfully translates the pun of the original into German, John Green has given his young readers one of those few books that can give you hope in the face of the suffering that life can mean. JULIA BÜTTNER
one like Alaska
Translated from the English by Sophie Zeitz. Hanser Verlag, Munich 207. 288 pages, 16.90 euros.
Rabbit wants to learn to fly so that he can finally see the dearest girl again. The attempts bring him quite a few crashes, but he doesn't give up until the unexpected happy ending. The skilfully simple, stylized colored drawings correspond with the subtle irony of the narrative. Pieter van Oudheusden, Kristien Aertssen: Rabbit is in love. Translated from the Dutch by Andrea Kluitmann. Sauerländer 2007. 32 pages, 13.90 euros) bud
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