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Knowledge Base .: Archives Fiction and Non-Fiction Reviews .: General Fiction .: Reviewers- Bookpleasures Team .: THE CENTER OF THE WORLD

THE CENTER OF THE WORLD

Author: Andreas Steinhöfel: Translated from the German by Alissa Jaffa

ISBN: 0-385-72943-X

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
             for teenagers.             

             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
             Christmas. 

             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.

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