Schulman, Rebecca. “Schadenfreude, A Love Story: Me, the Germans, and 20 Years of Attempted Transformations, Unfortunate Miscommunications, and Humiliating Situations That Only They Have Words For”, Flatiron, 2017.
Malice, Joy and Germans
“Schadenfreude” is a German word that means gaining pleasure from the misfortune of others (something I hope we will get when Donald Trump is, hopefully forced out of the Presidency. Rebecca Schuman has experienced a lot of schadenfreude from Germans. This is the story of a teenage Jewish intellectual who falls in love with a boy, a language, a culture and a landscape. Rebecca is a regular teenage who loves Pearl Jam and Ethan Hawke. One day, while she was in her high school Civics class, she realized that she was in love with Franz Kafka and for twenty years she studied everything she could about Germany. This is a very funny coming-of-age memoir fueled by Rebecca’s love for Kafka and learning German. She even moved to Berlin and there she tried to reinvent herself.
Schuman’s wonderful descriptions of German and Austrian culture are loaded with acerbic wit and love simultaneously. Basically this is the story of Rebecca Schulman’s young adult life — from her senior year of high school, when she falls in love with a pretentious Kafka enthusiast, to her graduate school and years studying Kafka on her own terms. We read about her infatuation with a pseudo-intellectual from Advanced Placement Civics, her attempts to learn German and live abroad and what she believes to be the meaning of life. She wonderfully balances entertaining storytelling with insightful literary and cultural analysis.