Although a novel, Darryl Pinckney’s Black Deutschland reads like a memoir. The style is simple, direct, conversational, flawless. It’s the the story of an American abroad: a visitor to Berlin in the final days of the wall. His journey from the superficially exotic, but ultimately predictable world of Berlin’s nightlife to the entirely unpredictable reality of his own sobriety forms the core of this novel. The narrator’s voice is erudite, intellectual, highly-educated and peppered with ironic wit. As an African-American gay man, he defies the stereotypes many impose upon him. Indeed, defying stereotypes is one of the leitmotifs of this novel.
That most German of American cities, Chicago, plays a large part in this novel as well. Through a series of flashbacks the narrator’s middle-class childhood is revealed. But this is not Oak Park middle-class or even Hyde Park middle-class. It is the middle-class of Bronzeville. It is a middle-class world where people feel connected to their neighbors. It isn’t surprising to see them congregating at his family’s house to watch the funeral of Harold Washington. Nor is it surprising to see his mother taking in troubled women in the neighborhood–“crazies” he calls them.
The structure of this novel is almost invisible. Mr. Pinckney’s conversational style perfectly conceals it. And it is only at the very end that we realize how far we’ve come on this journey of discovery with this fascinating man.
Queer Reader strongly recommends this book.
Darryl Pinckney’s Black Deutschland is published by Farrar Straus Giroux