Colder Layers of Air

Awarded with:
Hermann Hesse Preis, 2007
Rheingau Literaturpreis, 2007
Nominated for:
Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse, 2007

Set at a lakeside summer camp for youths in Sweden, the staff is composed of drop-outs, nature freaks, adventure seekers-rootless wanderers from the German east, who since the fall of the Wall have been perpetually living as citizens of a non-existent country, as foreigners in their own land. They come to this stretch of nature to escape civilization, to forget their precarious future, and pretend the past doesn't exist. The action is seen through the eyes of the androgynous first person narrator Anja, an unemployed lighting technician for a rundown theater, who has come to escape the small town misery of her past, and the frightening sense she is becoming a loser. The other main characters are Ralf, an ex-border patrolman haunted by the break-up of his marriage, Svenja, a medical school drop-out from the west, Sabine, the "half-Indian", who spent time in America with a shaman, and a scattering of other "wanderers" from both sides of the invisible divide.

Into this idyll comes a mysterious stranger, a woman who literally emerges from the lake, and immediately addresses Anja as her long lost love "Schmoll," a ship boy. Anja is mesmerized by the young woman and finds herself drawn into a confusing and seductive web of fiction that puts her at odds with the other members of the camp. In the course of the story, Anja not only metamorphoses into the ship boy for fleeting moments, but the two transform from thirty-something year olds to being sixteen and experiencing love for the first time. This blurring of the border-of age and gender-this metamorphosis is portrayed as a realistic event that occurs solely through language and stories, and it is not cast as a fantasy or fairytale. As the worlds of the women and the camp collide, the summer idyll unravels and turns violent, revealing the underlying tensions, violence and fissures of this closed off microcosm of society. Fear and destruction threaten not only the women's attempt to escape from accepted social agreements and perceptions, but also their reality. Alternately described as a love story, crime novel and society novel rolled into one, this "linguistic tour de force" FAZ, succeeds in creating a new literary language for love.
Zaia Alexander

Praise for "Colder Layers of Air"

The German newspaper Die Welt commented that Antje Rávic Strubels novel, Colder Layers of Air is "an almost classical masterpiece of language, woven from sentences whose flawlessness, whose precision, whose darkly shimmering depths are rarely to be found these days, and not only among her generation." The virtuoso descriptions of Nordic nature and light are an integral element to the text and story, and according to Literaturen, "it is hard to think of another contemporary author who gives literary expression to the magic of nature, its changing moods, voices and lights, the way this writer does - and no one who casts such radical doubt on human emotional nature amidst Nature's luxuriance." Through precisely wrought observations of her characters and their milieu, Antje puts her finger on an unsettling nerve of contemporary German society, while exposing the fractures and failures of re-unification. But beyond that, she calls into question our perception of men, women, love, and the social agreements that give definition to identity and gender.

excerpt of Colder Layers of Air