Jed—young, gay, black, out of rehab and out of prospects in his hometown of Chicago—flees to the city of his fantasies, a museum of modernism and decadence: Berlin. The paradise that tyranny created, the subsidized city isolated behind the Berlin Wall, is where he’s chosen to become the figure that he so admires, the black American expatriate. Newly sober and nostalgic for the Weimar days of Isherwood and Auden, Jed arrives to chase boys and to escape from what it means to be a black male in America.
But history, both personal and political, can’t be avoided with time or distance. Whether it’s the judgment of the cousin he grew up with and her husband’s bourgeois German family, the lure of white wine in a down-and-out bar, a gang of racists looking for a brawl, or the ravaged visage of Rock Hudson flashing behind the face of every white boy he desperately longs for, the past never stays past even in faraway Berlin. In the age of Reagan and AIDS in a city on the verge of tearing down its walls, he clambers toward some semblance of adulthood amid the outcasts and expats, intellectuals and artists, queers and misfits. And, on occasion, the city keeps its Isherwood promises and the boy he kisses, incredibly, kisses him back.
An intoxicating, provocative novel of appetite, identity, and self-construction, Darryl Pinckney’s Black Deutschland tells the story of an outsider, trapped between a painful past and a tenebrous future, in Europe’s brightest and darkest city.
About the author
Darryl Pinckney, a longtime contributor to The New York Review of Books, is the author of a novel, High Cotton, and two works of nonfiction, Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy and Out There: Mavericks of Black Literature. He has also collaborated with Robert Wilson on theater projects, most recently an adaption of Daniil Kharm’s The Old Woman. He lives in New York.
In 1980s Chicago, Jed, a middle-class gay black man hopes to find freedom and acceptance in Berlin, as did William Bradshaw in Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories. Unsteady and vulnerable from rehab for alcohol and drug addiction, Jed sets forth to find a new life in Berlin, a city in recovery from its own troubled past. Darryl Pinckney’s writing style and plot structure weave stream of consciousness, reflection and critical commentary into a uniquely modern story about what it means to be a middle-class black American male with no place to go as a citizen in a seemingly free and open society.