WHY WE TOOK THE CAR by Wolfgang Herrndorf
I am sitting here exhaling air in the way you do after reading a book that has blown you away, leaving a bereft ache in your heart. In the case of Why We Took The Car, a German YA novel originally published in 2010 under the title of Tschick (the name of the co-leading character), and now available from Andersen Press in a superb English translation by Tim Mohr, the sense of heartache is all the more awful for having discovered just now, via a quick search on the interent, that the book’s author, Wolfgang Herrndorf, shot himself last summer, after being diagnosed with a brain tumour a few years previously.
This is the only Young Adult book he wrote (his other work is for adults), but it should find a lasting place as one of the very best books in its genre.
Mike Klinkenberg, the narrator of the book, would like to be less boring. He’d like to have more friends. He’d like to be invited to parties. And he’d like Tatiana to take notice of him. His mother’s an alcoholic and after writing an all-too-honest essay about her, which his class find hilariously weird, he’s dubbed ‘Psycho’.
Things change when new boy Tschick joins the class. He’s Russian and an oddball – often turns up blind drunk, but doesn’t let anyone, including the teacher, push him around.
For Tatiana’s birthday (another party to which he is not invited) Mike creates an oversized drawing of Beyonce but seems unlikely ever to have the confidence to present it to her.
But when Tschick picks him up in a ‘borrowed’ Lada car, one of the first things they do is drive over to Tatiana’s house, where the party is in full swing, to present the drawing.
No sooner have they handed it over than they’re doing a 180 degree turn in the middle of the street and speeding away on a week long road adventure that will be the happiest time of their lives.
Everything that happens on the road has that raw authentic feel that you get from the best of European films (indeed, it is easy to visualise this book as a movie).
I’m not going to attempt to describe the experiences the two of them have, or the characters they meet along the way. Read the book for yourselves. Before going into English translation it already had more than one million sales in foreign editions. If any book is deserving of multi-million readership it is this.