DIE WELT 04/05/2012

Fascinating Excavations

The Berlin-Warsaw Express begins in the German capital at the legendary old Zoo station, then travels eastward through a once divided world. The Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Pergamon Museum, the TV tower at Alexanderplatz, and the still-gray suburbs of East Berlin move past the observer. But where once barbed wire and guard towers dominated the dreary landscape, tourists now marvel at the healed scars of history, and the bygone remnants of socialism. Today's traveler is free to simply enjoy the dining car, new acquaintances, etc.
No more hatreds, no espionage, no competition between rival social systems, just peaceful life in Western and Eastern Europe. In these eighteen stories, the American writer Michael Lederer describes these and other worlds, set over two continents, with a wonderfully ironic distance.
In reading, we understand immediately that the author is a renowned man of the theater. He leads his characters as would a director on the stage. In these stories, great dramas and great comedies alike play out, and as in Shakespeare's King Lear "The worst returns to laughter."
Michael Lederer was born in 1956 in Princeton, New Jersey. He writes novels, short stories and plays. He is also the founder and Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Festival in Dubrovnik, where he has a home in addition to his principle residence which is Berlin. Lederer knows both east and west of Europe, as well as the U.S., and notes that "the differences are not as convenient as the myths."
The Great Game proves Lederer to be a brilliant chronicler of loss, showing us characters who have fallen through the cracks of our increasingly interconnected world. A father alone in a café talks to his dead son as if the son was sitting at the table with him; his way of contending with his grief. A hitchhiker on a journey across the U.S. encounters a succession of lost souls.
In another story, wealthy lovers drown themselves in vodka and champagne, wanting nothing more than to be happy.
Whether American, Polish, Spanish or German, Michael Lederer's protagonists travel through west or east, the United States or Europe, only to return to themselves. Whether in the city or countryside, in a hospital or a bar, on a mountain lake or in a modern art museum, the world is reflected again and again in their eyes, the present melding with the past.
Lederer plays with, among other things, the former Cold War balance that still touches the present. Traveling through these stories, we encounter impressions and memories, secrets and surprises, as things suppressed refuse to remain so. These are fascinating excavations.
Michael Lederer is a true archaeologist, among the great American writers. At the end of The Great Game he leaves us with the following: "The world is yours now, do with it as you will."
Michael Lederer. The Great Game. Berlin-Warsaw Express and Other Stories. PalmArtPress, Berlin. 273 pp. € 16.90.