While We Were Dreaming was Clemens Meyer’s debut novel, published in German in 2007. A review quoted on the back cover describes it as “a book like a fist”, and that force is apparent in the reading. This novel doesn’t let go.
Daniel and his friends are young teenagers in Leipzig when the Berlin Wall falls. The country reconfigures around them, but for the boys, life goes on in pretty much the same way: a carousel of violence, drinking, sex and skirmishes with the police, leading to spells inside.
The novel chronicles a time of dreams for its young characters, but those dreams don’t necessarily come true. As Daniel reflects:
Every day the memories dance in my head and I torment myself asking why it all turned out the way it did. Sure, we had a whole lot of fun back then, but still there was a kind of lostness in us, in everything we did, a feeling I can’t explain.Translation from German by Katy Derbyshire
While We Were Dreaming is structured out of chronological order, which has the effect of underlining how hard it is for Meyer’s characters to escape their situation, because there isn’t a clear sense of forward progression. Nonetheless, there are moments of hope, amid the book’s constant swirl.
Published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.
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