Review: Beside Myself by Sasha Marianna Salzmann

Beside Myself is fiction at its highest purpose – a debut novel that comes straight from the gates like a raging bull.
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Sasha Marianna Salzmann’s Beside Myself translated by Imogen Taylor.

Sasha Marianna Salzmann’s debut novel comes straight from the gates like a raging bull. From the opening sentence of her first work as a novelist, Beside Myself reads like a classic and is yet refreshingly modern.

Ali’s grandparents moved from 90s Russia to Germany to escape anti-Semitic persecution. From their small flat in Moscow, to Berlin and Istanbul, Beside Myself beautifully interweaves four generations of characters of different ages, times, places, languages and genders.

In search of Anton, her twin brother, Ali emigrates to the Turkish capital to stay with her uncle. There she retraces memories and gathers information about her brother, her only clue a blank postcard.

Guidelines traditionally used to illustrate our stories are made vague to show fluidity and to confuse us all at once.

‘For me, time is a turntable. Images blur before my eyes, and over and over I guess how things might have looked, guess the names of streets I’ve never set foot in, of city stairways and empty boats. I try not to mix up the people whose names repeat themselves down the centuries.’

But this book is not just important because of Salzmann’s in-depth characters. Her understanding of the parameters we think make us human have become reconfigured, the language we use to explain things often fails us:

‘My mother was speaking in several languages at once, putting them together in different combinations to fit the colour and flavour of her memories, making sentences that told a story different from the sum of their words. When she spoke, it sounded like an amorphous medley of all the things she was – things that could never have been reduced to one version of a story, or told in only one language.’

Beside Myself is fiction at its highest purpose. If we read to understand ours and others’ unbearable lightness – to try and make sense of our surroundings – this book is truly the contemporary counterpart to ideas on family, identity, time and place. It illuminates the gaps we previously thought were great divides, showing what more we can learn from each other.

Sasha Marianna Salzmann is the co-founder of culture magazine frietext out of Kreuzberg – a Berliner suburb known for its Turkish population. She was born in Volgograd and grew up in Moscow, emigrating with her family to Germany in 1995, where she studied literature, theatre and media and is already a celebrated playwright.

Beside Myself was shortlisted for the German Book Prize in 2017 and was translated from German to English by Imogen Taylor.

Rating: 4 ½ stars ★★★★☆
Beside Myself
By Sasha Marianna Salzmann
Translated by Imogen Taylor

Extent: 336pp
Format: Paperback
Text publication date: 5 February 2019
ISBN: 9781911231257AU
Price: $38.00
Categories: Society & Culture/Translated Fiction

James Arbuthnott
About the Author
Contributed by an ArtsHub critic.
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