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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Why We Took the Car
by Wolfgang Herrndorf
Age Range: 14+
Fourteen-year-old Mike Klingenberg appears to be rather aloof and disconnected. Coming from a wealthy if dysfunctional family; with an alcoholic mother and a father who is having a rather obvious affair with his personal assistant, Mike is not a natural rebel. He doesn’t understand why people think he’s boring or why he doesn’t have any friends. Mike likes Tatiana, the most beautiful girl in his class, but she’s completely oblivious to him.
And then Andrej Tschichatschow, aka Tschick arrives; a Russian immigrant with a dishevelled appearance who often turns up to school reeking of alcohol and sleeps through nearly every class. Like Mike, he too is shunned by his classmates.
Thanks to his mother’s latest round of rehab and his father’s ‘business trip’ Mike has been left alone for two weeks. When Tschick shows up in an old Lada, he has borrowed (without permission), but which he always returns, until now. He persuades Mike to go on the road with him. Mike is terrified but also excited and together they leave Berlin with no map and only a vague destination – Wallachia, a place that no longer exists – a historical and geographical region of Romania – where Tschick insists some of his family comes from.
Narrated by Mike, the reader watches events unfold as he perceives them. This is a road trip like no other. The boys get themselves hopelessly lost, experience bizarre situations, meet eccentric people, experience true kindness and get into serious trouble.
Why We Took the Car by German author Wolfgang Herrndorf is an unusual, highly engaging coming-of-age novel, which has sold over one million copies worldwide since it was first published in 2010 and won the German literature prize in 2011. Tim Mohr has done an excellent job with the American-English translation capturing the gritty off-beat humour and Mike’s deepening appreciation for humanity. There is a quite a bit of wide-ranging strong language but it doesn’t over-burden the text.
This is a remarkable novel full of insight now available in English for a whole new audience to discover. Sadly, Herrndorf was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and committed suicide in August 2013.