The Fall of the Berlin Wall is a sequel to my earlier novel, “Hungry Generations,” about characters in their late twenties in Los Angeles circa 1972; it featured a legendary German-Jewish/Russian émigré piano-virtuoso, the ‘sacred monster’ Alexander Petrov, his wife and two adult children, as well as the composer and their friend Jack Weinstein, as a young man.
Now those characters are in their forties in Cleveland in November 1989, and the novel is about personal crises echoing the fall of the Berlin Wall and that upturning of the old order. Jack has become a successful composer and educator, and he is married to Sarah, the intense and irrepressible daughter of the late virtuoso.
The culture of classical music is represented here by Cleveland Orchestra musicians and memories of émigrés in flight from Nazi Europe, some of whom raised their American children in Los Angeles. The lives of the young are partly shaped by popular culture – its music, its preferred drugs, and the influence of punk. The culture of the family is also at risk from memories and betrayals, and members of the Weinstein family share the telling of this story. A surprising bonus is the magnificent music played and imagined here.
It is Thanksgiving week, and Jack does not understand why the couple’s marriage is collapsing. Visiting them for Thanksgiving is Sarah’s brother, Joseph Petrov, who is Jack’s closest friend; the hugely talented pianist son of Alexander is now caught in the middle between his sister and his brother-in-law. The week’s events are told by this trio of characters, and much of the novel revolves around Sarah – her Dostoyevskian intensity, her suffering, her stinging repartee, and the friendships she forms and betrays.
Friendship itself is a force – emotional, erotic, and imaginative – in the lives of these characters, with its potential success or failure for her and Jack, for the brothers-in-law, and for the group of friends surrounding the three characters. Again, the surprising bonus of the magnificent music played and imagined here includes Jack’s plans for a work responding to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The idea that long-standing barriers can collapse shapes the novel, its vision of politics, of music, and the past.
This heartbreaking, tragicomic work brings to life each of the human beings here. The characters in this emotionally compelling, partly political literary work are reminiscent of Myshkin, Nastasya, and Rogozhin in Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot” or, also, of those in a greatly shortened DeLillo’s “Underworld.” Integrated at the end of the short novel is a section titled “The Past” containing six “origin” stories that evoke explosively what has been at stake in the startling past of the characters.
Here’s the synopsis:
The Fall of the Berlin Wall – a novel
Daniel Melnick (216-378-9302; firstname.lastname@example.org)
“Maybe I’m proud myself, even if I’m shameless. You just called me perfection. A fine perfection! – if just for the sake of being willful I’ve trampled on a million and a brilliant man.” --Nastasiya in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot
Two events in November 1989 mark the lives of the novel’s characters. One is the death of a woman discovered naked in the snow outside the Weinstein house, during a massive storm buffeting Cleveland on Thanksgiving. The other event is the fall of the Berlin Wall, taking place two weeks earlier – an upturning of the old order that corresponds to these characters’ desire to change their lives.
Jack Weinstein wants to save his marriage to Sarah, the intense, unpredictable daughter of the late legendary German-Jewish classical pianist and ‘sacred monster’ Alexander Petrov. Unaware of what is causing the collapse of the marriage, he tries to confront her dissatisfaction and shifting allegiances, and much of the action revolves around her Dostoyevskian intensity, her repartee, and the friendships she forms and betrays. Sarah and Jack are in their forties and have a sixteen-year-old daughter, Sue, absorbed by her own efforts to deal with boys and drugs.
Joseph, Sarah’s brother, is visiting this Thanksgiving week. He is gay, and his friendship with his straight brother-in-law unfolds dramatically here. Joseph finds himself in the middle of the couple’s conflicts. The week’s events are told by the trio of family members. Both Joseph and Jack are musicians. Joseph Petrov is, like his late father, a piano virtuoso, and Jack is a classical composer and music professor; one of his compositions has just been nominated for a Grammy in contemporary classical music.
The Weinsteins’ friends have their own turbulence. And friendship – both healing and broken – becomes an issue in all their lives. Each of these characters has a piece of the solution to the troubles in the family’s lives, to their joy and grief, to their betrayals, and to a death – possibly a murder – that takes place in their midst. The Blacks, who live around the corner, are about to declare bankruptcy, for Jacob has been denied tenure and become a ‘freeway professor,’ teaching one class here, another there across town. There are their mutual friends, the Sinclairs, and especially Robert Sinclair becomes the target of Jacob’s bitterness about his life.
One of the Weinsteins’ best friends is an artist and a bohemian of sorts, Tom Mubar, who is divorced and shares custody of his seventeen-year-old son, Paul. Sarah has an affair, and when it collapses, she is drawn to Tom, who understands – she believes – what a disaster her life has become, but she painfully discovers that he does not reciprocate her feelings and is himself trying to endure his own shocks and dangers.
Everything comes to a head when the Weinsteins celebrate Thanksgiving with Joseph and their friends. At dinner, confrontations erupt from the tensions brewing all week, and Sarah, already depressed and disoriented, plummets into potentially suicidal despair.
“The Fall of the Berlin Wall” is a tragicomic portrait of the confusions and heartbreaking disasters in love and friendship, and it also pictures what may endure our collisions – whether it be love, art and music, or simply the welter of conflicting passions in youth and middle age. Six stories presenting the startling past of the characters are integrated into the end of the novel.
(The work is about 51,000 words.)
Table of Contents:
Prologue: Rachel and Jacob Black – Friday, November 24, 1989
Chapter 1: Joseph – Sunday afternoon, November 19, 1989
Chapter 2: Sarah – Sunday evening at the Weinstein party
Chapter 3: Jack – Monday morning, November 20, 1989
Chapter 4: Joseph – Monday evening at the Ramadanoff party
Chapter 5: Jack – Tuesday afternoon, November 21, 1989
Chapter 6: Sarah – Tuesday evening at Tom Mubar’s party
Chapter 7: Joseph – Wednesday afternoon, November 22, 1989
Chapter 8: Jack – Wednesday evening at Julius and Rose Weinstein’s party
Chapter 9: Joseph – Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 23, 1989
Chapter 10: Sarah – Thursday night at the Weinsteins
Chapter 11: Jack – Friday morning, November 24, 1989
Chapter 12: Sue – Saturday, Christmas Day 1989 in Berlin
The Past - Before the Fall
Chapter 13: Paul’s Story – The Fall of the Berlin Wall – November 9, 1989
Chapter 14 Tom’s Story – Triptych – 1950-1980
Chapter 15: Karen’s Story – Odalisque – September 1983
Chapter 16: Helen’s Story – Contrapuntal Piece – October 1982
Chapter 17: Jacob’s Story – Your Name Is Hiroshima – November 1984
Chapter 18: Julius’s Story – Einstein’s Sorrow – June 1980