Darryl Pinkney's Black Deutschland is a provocative journey through post-war German history through the eyes of Jed, a young black American expatriate living in West Berlin. Jed is a fascinating and unique narrator and was actually the reason I picked this book up. Other novels, films and TV shows bring this period of history to life but none with the particular view point of an outsider so keen to evoke a Berlin of both the past and the future.
Jed's dream begins on arrival in Berlin, a city which he views through the lens of Christopher Isherwood and his friends. Escaping Chicago Jed can be who he wants to be in a city where underground bars and cruising spots provide a warm welcome to a young black American.
"I was determined to pour down the drain behaviour brewed in envy and low self esteem"
As the weeks and years pass Jed throws himself into work and an obsession with the Bauhaus Modernism he sees around him. The combination of Walter Gropius buildings and liberal loving are irresistible. Pinckney cleverly constructs the narrative so that reminders of home are never far behind. Jed's mostly disapproving cousin lives with her husband in a middle class area of the city a million miles from Jed's Weimar cabaret lifestyle.
The novel is at its best when shadows begin to creep on to the streets of Jed's Berlin. Hollywood legendary pin-up Rock Hudson is diagnosed with AIDS and the inevitability of a new unified Berlin and Germany become a reality. But it is Jed who has really grown up and who must embrace the new future ahead of him.
Darryl Pinckney's novel is fresh, fearless and uniquely brings the 1980s back to life with a new and powerful voice.