x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

The Shadow-Boxing Woman: Clinging to the familiar in a new Germany

In a tentatively reunified Berlin, a woman sets out to find her missing neighbour.

The Shadow-Boxing Woman, by Inka Parei.
The Shadow-Boxing Woman, by Inka Parei.

Berlin in the period after the wall came tumbling down in 1989. This is a city in flux, a landscape on which Inka Parei paints the story of Hell, The Shadow-Boxing Woman's central character.

Hell lives in the "gloomy rooms" of a decrepit apartment. Hers is a lonely existence: most of her neighbours have decamped to modern tower blocks.

When Dunkel (literally, Dark), the building's only other tenant disappears unexpectedly, Hell feels compelled to find her, beginning a zig-zagging trail across the concrete city that will eventually lead her to Markus Marz, a novice but successful bank robber.

All of this is punctuated by conversations that are as short as a Communist-era official statement: "Looks like you've robbed a bank?" says Hell when she first encounters Marz. "Yes, last Friday," he replies. Shame then what riches there are to be found in these pages are derailed by a calamitous printing error: much of the book's opening pages are reproduced word-for-word halfway through Parei's narrative.