On Iris Hanika’s Tanzen auf Beton (Dancing on Concrete) (2013)

Tanzen auf Beton

I avoid reviewing books which haven’t been translated and this led to the somewhat more problematic development of my not reading them anymore. Since some of you have commented that you’d be interested anyway I will  post a bit more frequently on not (yet) translated books in the future.

Iris Hanika is a German writer who has received several important prizes for her books. So far none has been translated. I bought one of her novels a while ago but when a friend told me about  Tanzen auf Beton (Dancing on Concrete), which has just been published in Germany, I thought, I’d like to read it. As much as I like British and American novels, occasionally I want something more edgy, less polished, raw even. Hanika’s fragmented “novel” was exactly that: raw and edgy.

It already starts with the subtitle which calls this book “Another report from the endless analysis”. Still, the book is called “novel”. After having finished it, I’m not sure why. Easier to sell?

What is edgy and raw in the book is not only the writing and the fact that it is fragmented but that Hanika presents herself naked, with all her vulnerabilities. She analyses the total failure of an affair which lasted years, decades even. Despite the fact that being with this man turned her into a moron (as she thinks) who wasn’t able to talk, made her dependent and begging for sex which wasn’t even good or satisfying, she couldn’t stop seeing him.

This whole misery is almost spat out at first, not like a confession, more like an attempt at putting into words what happened and in doing so making sense. It’s an attempt that took a long time and would never have been achieved without the help of psychoanalysis. As Hanika admits freely in interviews, she’d like to help people see that psychoanalysis can help, it can help uncover hidden truths and move towards a being less neurotic, healthier. She has even written an introduction to psychoanalysis together with her analyst.

I personally don’t believe psychoanalysis is that useful, (psychotherapy certainly is but there are many approaches). A so-called talking cure, is not for everyone. Hanika tries to show that for her this was a good approach. (Seeing the outcome, I’m not entirely convinced this is true).

What was interesting was that she did not only find meaning and a new way to live through psychoanalysis but also through writing, travelling, Russian literature and heavy metal. A peculiar mix but when she writes about these things, how much joy for example a trip through Russia brings, how much she loves to read the Russian authors, the joy is infectious. It makes you want to grab all of your Russian novels and book a trip to St Petersburg. (Her praise of Ministry and other metal bands was somewhat less infectious).

What was it that turned Hanika into a woman who needs a man, feels incomplete without one but is at the same time not capable of having a real relationship and always ends up in degrading affairs with married men? Yes, a lack of self-esteem, but that does come from somewhere. Since it’s not that likely this book will be translated I can allow myself to write spoilers and will tell you what was uncovered. First she came from a family in which women were not valued and then, at the age of 13, she had the traumatizing experience of being almost raped. It’s interesting that her therapist isn’t accepting this as sole reason but digs deeper and what is truly shocking is that nobody spoke with the young Iris about what happened to her. Nobody tried to find out whether the man was caught. It was a topic that was never mentioned. As if what had happened to her had not been important as she was not important. As she correctly writes – the shame is for the victims. Not only is this hurtful but it made her feel utterly alone.

All this is told in fragments; bits of storytelling follow small essays, short observations follow longer reflections.

Happiness, love, sex, getting older, music, psychoanalysis, Russia, violence against women…. The topics are endless, the way she writes is fresh and new, the tone is sometimes humorous, sometimes sad, often laconic and surprising. Quite refreshing to be honest but I can’t say I really liked it. I felt pity for her, for the way she over-analyzes everything but then again, I liked the way she could be so enthusiastic. I certainly wish her well and think it was a courageous book to write. The only thing I found a bit astonishing was that she never thought of the guy’s wife. (I am tempted to be sarcastic here – psychoanalysis, in this case, seems to have turned someone into a person who feels better but not necessarily a better person.)

There are a lot of reviews from critics available already, and they are all raving. I’m going to read her novel Treffen sich zwei (When Two Meet) soon. I’d like to see how she writes when she writes a “real” novel. Treffen sich zwei has been translated into French (Une fois deux) and Spanish (Un encuentro de dos), her prize-winning novel Das Eigentliche was translated into Italian (L’essenziale) and has a good chance of being translated into English as well as it received a prestigious prize.