Two years ago, in his debut “Man on His Side”, Christian Baron spoke about his family background in the working-class environment of Kaiserslautern in the 1990s. The focus is on the battered father and the helpless mother who died of cancer at a young age. A family is in a vicious cycle of unemployment, poverty, neglect, alcoholism and violence. Reviewing from a first person perspective enabled distance and reflection.
This combination of autobiography, narrative, and social analysis fits well with the large number of new publications working under the title “New Class Literature”. The turbulent realization that unlimited growth has always been an illusion and that poverty is ever more rampant may contribute to the success of this species.
The two protagonists in “Schön ist die Nacht” are the grandparents, Horst Baron and Willie Wagner, who only played a supporting role in the debut “Ein Mann eines Klasses”. So, Baron goes back to the seventies, when the German “economic miracle” was just beginning to flourish. Against this background, the author creates something like a pedigree of failure, if you look at both books.
In the novel’s first chapter, Horst Baron, an orphan in 1944, dreams of rising to a better society when he sees Pharmacist Jansson’s wonderful now-bombed villa.
“Why might old Jensen, his wife and two children need so much space when Horst was sharing one room in the house with ten comrades? (…) .. one day, when the final victory was there and Kaiserslautern was rebuilt, Horst was doing the same Like Mr Janson.”
violence and silence
Among the mountains of ruins, Horst, wandering around, meets a somewhat older Hitler youth, Willie. For the latter, decency means, he says, staying loyal to the Nazi regime. A fateful encounter continues into the next chapter, now written in 1973.
Willie Wagner is now a carpenter. However, through his work, he can hardly feed his wife Rosie and their seven daughters. The living conditions are very cramped and dilapidated. In addition, Rosi is attached to the bottle. “Staying fit” is boring under these circumstances.
On the verge of the coronation, Willy again met his old acquaintance Horst, whom Rossi had driven out ten years earlier with a knife in his hand. Horst, this violent utter failure, keeps his head above water with criminal activities and destroys everyone connected to him, including his family. The central point of contact between the two men is ‘Die Goldmine’, a corner pub in Kaiserslautern.
“You know what, my dear,” said Horst, “you always have to be happy, even if life doesn’t give you a reason for it. Staying happy is half the battle. Believe me, it’s good for you, you can eat outside for months. Willy loved the grain of wood on the table.” Whenever Horst got five big minutes, Willy traced the pills with his fingers. The man got on his nerves, but Willy didn’t want to go home either. Nothing awaited him there but his wife’s constant scolding. It would have been better if she married a successful man, someone who values education. …”
Two friends on the edge
Horst had just stolen the cash register at Willie’s party. And now they’re hanging out at Helga’s Corner bar again. From now on, Horst will fight his way in life, spin quirky things, and tempt Willie to steal machines, cheat, and steal machines.
Reading this novel, it becomes increasingly incomprehensible why Willy continues to stand by him. Barron expands the perspective to allow Willy’s precarious working conditions in construction, exploitation by company bosses and Willy’s good nature and weaknesses to emerge as motives. But this is not really convincing. The Baron’s heroes are too many language prisoners in their surroundings to be able to explain themselves. The narrator Baron almost fuses with the characters, even retreating into working-class language over and over again.
“His ass has fun fairs” That’s what they say, for example, when someone is hit. Thus the personal horoscopes seem perfectly constructed in many sections. For example, how credible is a police officer at a station who flirts with Willy, starts a relationship with him, and even covers some criminal activities? Barron’s attempts to create a working-class atmosphere in the ’70s with football, pop music and Elvis Presley’s television appearances in bars seem somewhat powerless.