03 March 2017
Schadenfreude, A Love Story by Rebecca Schuman
You know that feeling you get watching a pompous jerk whine into his cell as he’s booted out of a restaurant? When the elevator doors slide shut just before your sadistic boss can step in beside you? There’s a word for this mix of malice and joy, and the Germans (of course) invented it. It’s Schadenfreude, deriving pleasure from others’ misfortune, and with Slate columnist Rebecca Schuman, the Teutons have a stern, self-satisfied blast at her expense.
Rebecca is just your average chronically misunderstood 90’s teenager, with a passion for Pearl Jam and Ethan Hawke circa Reality Bites, until two men walk into her high school Civics class: Dylan Gellner, with deep brown eyes and an even deeper soul, and Franz Kafka, hitching a ride in Dylan’s backpack. These two men are the axe to the frozen sea that is Rebecca’s spirit, and what flows forth is a passion for all things German (even though, as everyone is quick to remind her, Kafka wasn’t German at all). Dreamy Dylan might leave the second he gets accepted to a better college than Rebecca does, but Kafka is forever, and in pursuit of this elusive love she will spend two decades stuttering and stumbling through broken German sentences, trying to win over a people who don’t want to be bothered.
At once a snapshot of a young woman finding herself, and a country slowly starting to stitch itself back together after nearly a century of war (both hot and cold), Schadenfreude, A Love Story is an exhilarating, hilarious, and yes, maybe even heartfelt memoir proving that sometimes the truest loves play hard to get.
The Spring slate of Barnes and Noble Discover titles is a really interesting collection of books. Thrillers, literary fiction, Russian fables, two refugee memoirs, the Discover winners. And then there is Rebecca Schuman's Schadenfreude, a Love Story - a unique combination of love letter to a language and travel memoir. It starts when Schuman is in high school and falls hook, line, and sinker for the cool smart boy in her class and the volume of Kafka riding around in his backpack.
Thus starts this funny and awkward memoir about Schuman's love (possibly hate) at times relationship with German and Germans, starting with her first exposure in high school through several study abroad trips and a PhD in German. Schuman is approximately 2 years older than me, so we experienced the same Germany in the mid-1990s as a reunified country struggled to figured out how to work again. We had very different experiences, to say the least. She has some interesting stories. One of the most compelling parts of this book is that Schuman doesn't shy away from her brattier attitudes - she shows herself warts and all.
(And yes, we all know Kafka wasn't an actual German. Everyone likes to tell us that.)
Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.