Author: Andreas Steinhöfel: Translated from the German by Alissa Jaffa
Publishers: DELACORTE PRESS May 2005
The following review was contributed by: Lily Azerad-Goldman &CLICK TO VIEW Lily Azerad-Goldman's Reviews
Andreas Steinhöfel has fashioned a somber and enthralling novel
THE CENTER OF THE WORLD is set in Visible, a decrepit mansion in
the old world, most likely in Germany before World War II. The
action spans between the summer of Phil’s 17th birthday until
The journey begins with the strange circumstances of the birth of
twins Phil and Dianne in the middle of winter. Through the conduit
of Phil’s narrative, Andreas Steinhöfel maps out the meandering
lives of this peculiar family. His writing is reminiscent of the
dark German-expressionistic paintings, raw, hard edge garish and
ghoulish. Through the use of flashbacks the author suggests that
some things that happened in Phil’s past affect recent events and
help us to understand the reasons for his homosexuality.
Phil’s mother, Glass, is a peculiar woman, who has a multitude of
lovers and lives with a lesbian in the “haunted” house. The family
is disliked and ostracized by The Little People of the village. When
Phil walks the tightrope of homosexuality, Glass recognizes his
tendencies and encourages him in his journey to self-discovery. He
has very few friends, Kat, a free and independent girl, and Wolf, a
weirdo who loves to kill animals. He loves his sister Dianne but she
is very secretive. Phil misses having a father and worships Gable,
a sailor and cousin of his mom.
“The Center of the World”, from the title of the book, is the
Library in their town where he encounters the love of his life,
Nicholas. This peculiar love affair is written with a lot of tact
and understanding by Steinhöfel. These events build up to a climax
when Nicholas betrays Phil . We really feel the human frailty and
desire as well as the turmoil and anguish of adolescent years in
their search for self-discovery. When Nicholas betrays Phil, we
want to hide under the covers and cry with Phil.
Steinhöfel is a master story teller. He is obsessed with
transparency throughout the novel. i.e. Glass, Visible, the
transparency of the town people, and the transparency of the soul
of his characters. We come to love his characters as though they
were real, even though, we had never seen or touched them, and they
exist only in an imprint.
I found a few passages a little macabre for my taste, but I am
sure teenagers will revel in this kind of writing. It is no wonder
that Steinhöfel has won the prestigious Buxtehuder Bulle Prize for
Best Young Adult Novel in Germany and was short listed for the
German Children’s Literature Award.
The translation from the German by Alissa Jaffa is flawless.
Compelling, riveting at every turn, THE CENTER OF THE WORLD should
be targeted to readers of all ages.