Die neuen Leiden des jungen W. (or The New Sorrows/Sufferings/whatever of Young W.)

Novel by Ulrich Plenzdorf, East German, published during the "Tauwetterjahre" (1972, to be precise). First appeared serially. As you might expect, the novel plays with Goethe's famous Die Leiden des jungen Werther, but also with J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye.

The main character, disaffected East German youth Edgar Wibeau - after years of more or less model citizenship - leaves apprenticeship and mother in search of a paternal heritage, "echte" blue jeans, and personal satisfaction. His mother only hears from him through audio tapes he sends to his best buddy at home, Willi. The cassettes contain readings from some random book Edgar finds in the bathroom - he doesn't know its title, because (in a desperate situation) he's already used the title page as toilet paper. Edgar finds the language pretty over-the-top, kind of Sturm und Drang, know what I mean? Intriguing explorations of personal and national myths ensue.

Die neuen Leiden des jungen W. has achieved a certain cult classic status in Germany. Although the ruling Communist Party condemned the novel's sarcastic looks at East German life soon after its publication, most critics, including those in East Germany, hailed Plenzdorf's compelling sketch of German youth culture. Plenzdorf makes liberal use of 1970s slang, so if you read it in German, try and get hold of a gloss. A movie version was released in 1976, and a stage version also proved highly popular in Germany.

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