Learning German (badly)

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Autofiction published by Claret Press

An ode to a potential union, a lament for a lost citizenship and a celebration of life, Tim Luscombe reports from the cosmopolitan bubble of Berlin.

In order to win German citizenship, a middle-aged theatre director returns to school to study German, but his classmates from all over the world are not as focused on study as he would wish. Karole from Botswana, Mervyn from Estonia and Jang-Mi from Korea become Tim’s new unlikely friends as they each grapple with mind-bending grammar, the pitfalls of integration and baffling immigration paperwork. As their valiant but flawed teacher attempts to coral her ship of fools towards an understanding of the dative, some prosper while others move on.

As well as relishing the anarchy of German class, this tragicomic diary records the writer’s despair witnessing the referendum and its aftermath from afar. Tim’s sense of himself as a European is threatened when a new England is born, heralded by Teresa May damning ‘citizens of nowhere’. As old England goes to shreds, the writer’s father faces death in Teddington Hospital, forcing Tim’s priorities to shift. While a European political union is torn apart, a new personal union deepens when Tim not only falls in love with his newly adoptive country but also marries his German boyfriend.

This comedy of manners is as much about the group dynamics of the classroom as it is about a union of countries. Its central interests are transience, identity, community and how not to learn German.

Learning German (badly) is not a book I can safely read on public transport. It is a long time since anything rendered me quite so breathless and helpless with giggling.

 

Not many know and love the continent and our complex relationship with it, like Luscombe. And no-one can communicate that with such fantastically self deprecating wit.

Federay Holmes, Associate Artist, Globe Theatre, London

What I particularly liked were your reflections on German society from the perspective of someone trying to come to terms with the linguistic and cultural rules that govern life in Germany.

These were ethnographic in the best sense; i.e. acutely observed and analysed, nicely contextualised and highly reflexive. I also found your own story very moving, especially the account of the loss of your dad and your relationship with Sven.

 

Parts of the book I thought were incredibly honest and even quite raw (like Bettina’s ego-deflating tirade) and you really got a sense that this is Tim being open about himself, warts and all, which was great

Cris Shore, Professor of Anthropology, Goldsmiths University of London