Goodbye Heiko, Goodbye Berlin
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PRAISE FOR GROUNDBREAKING STORYTELLING
"Author Owen Levy is “truly a man of the world gifted with a prose style that sings, sings, sings! I am reading with admiration and pride in my acquaintance with a writer who is as candid as he is insightful and engaging...Storytelling in the best American literary tradition.”
-- Sidney Offit, NY Literary Lion & Authors Guild President
“It is a splendid book that personalizes the pre-and-post Berlin Wall and the post Nazi attitude towards gays in Germany. By all means read this book – it is an eye-opening experience about Cold War Berlin before and after German Reunification. AND it is an excellent novel!
-- Grady Harp, Amazon Top 100 Reviewer.
“A fascinating look at a time, place and lifestyle that you don't have to be gay to appreciate. I especially enjoyed Levy's quirky writing style, which frequently omits determiners, pronouns and prepositions, which usually seem necessary, but here their absence creates a sense of light and open space for the narrative and its characters to move through. A bold, sensitive reminder of the importance of human connection. Sincerely recommended.”
-- J Brown, Arts Blogger
“The book not only…answers many questions regarding the Division of Germany but it raises new suspicions, question relationships, and entertains.”
-- Sarah-Jayne Windbridge-France, GoodReads Contributor
“Couldn’t put this book down. Fascinating place and time. Unexpected ending. As a straight man I related to the emotions.”
--Robert Klein, Amazon Reader Comment
"BERLIN AS METAPHOR"
Gay & Lesbian Literary Review Quarterly – Winter 2017
Berlin As Metaphor
Dale Boyer on December 31, 2016
Goodbye Heiko, Goodbye Berlin: A City Divided Then Reunited After Fall of Infamous Wall
by Owen Levy
BookLocker.com, Inc. 281 pages, $18.95
WHAT IS IT that one loves about a person or a city? Does loving a person or a place mean that you’ve found something there that corresponds to something deep within your inner core, or that the person or place fills some void in your inner experience?
Such questions are posed by Owen Levy’s novel Goodbye Heiko, Goodbye Berlin. The story of an African-American expat who travels to Berlin in the 1980s—partly to escape the conservative turn of Reagan-era America, but also to discover something about himself—the novel immediately announces its theme of seeking by having the narrator think he glimpses a shadow of his old friend and love interest, Heiko, on a crowded street. The seeming embodiment of youth, beauty, and Germanic ideals, Heiko is a free spirit living in East Berlin whom the narrator meets, befriends, and almost immediately falls in love with. Heiko, it seems, is a magnet for nearly everyone—people of both genders seem to fall for him—calling to mind the universal object of desire, Malone, in Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance. One of the perils of creating such a character is that he or she may come off as flat or opaque, but that is not true of Heiko, who is given both an impressive amount of specificity and a countervailing dash of mystery. A work such as this ultimately stands or falls on how intrigued we are by the central character; and Heiko—a curious mixture of fascination and indifference who keeps the narrator (and us) guessing about his true nature—gets the job done.
The novel’s narrator, perhaps ironically, is the enigmatic one—though this also makes sense, as he’s the one who’s on a quest to find himself. The narrator is ostensibly searching for love, but also for something in himself—something he seems to find in Berlin, a city that was divided at this time. Initially seeking a refuge from issues of race in America—he maintains that Germans are much less racist than Americans—the narrator becomes intrigued by a figure who is the very embodiment of 20th-century notions of race gone horribly awry, the blond and blue-eyed Heiko. There’s no element of racial superiority in Heiko, but he himself is a very conflicted person: torn between East and West, gay and straight, even male and female. Thus Levy’s masterstroke in the book is having a divided narrator pursue a divided love in a divided city. Meanwhile, some of Berlin’s citizens are suddenly disappearing, not due to the Wall but to the encroaching advent of AIDS.
The narrator’s quest for the heart of Heiko is echoed by his quest to understand Berlin, and himself. As he puts it: “I imagine that Heiko and Berlin will always intertwine with the narrative of my life: a man I never completely seduced and a city that seduced me and brought me to a better understanding of self.” The search for Heiko even takes the narrator to Rwanda, another country torn to pieces by civil war, further underscoring the notion of internal division and strife. All of this is absorbing and moving—even unforgettable—and the central metaphor is consistent and compelling.
That said, it must be noted that Goodbye Heiko requires the reader to make a number of unfortunate allowances for lax style, inexpert shaping, and even outright errors. The narrative frequently shifts between past and present tense, for example, often within the same paragraph—the kind of lapse that would have benefited from a stronger editorial hand. Articles frequently go missing, as occurs even in the book’s curious subtitle: “A City Divided Then Reunited After Fall Of Infamous Wall.” At times, the missing words and articles give the book a dashed-off, incomplete feel, as if the author were making notes for sentences to be fleshed out at a later time, as in this rather anti-climactic, end-of-chapter sentence: “Made several attempts to call but none returned.”
All of this might, with a slight shift in emphasis, have become a conscious trope throughout the book—mixed-up tenses and missing articles as a metaphor for confusion or incomplete understanding—but they are not carried out consistently. The result is that one constantly has the feeling that just a little more polish and direction could have made a big difference. Still, Goodbye Heiko packs a powerful emotional punch and may well linger in memory for a long time to come. One finishes it with the distinct sense that it contains a lifetime of experience. Like Berlin itself, the novel is a little confusing and unfathomable, but one feels privileged to have spent some time there.
Dale Boyer’s latest novel is The Dandelion Cloud. A collection of short fiction, tentatively titled “Thornton Stories,” is forthcoming.
OWEN LEVY is a Stonewall survivor and author of the seminal novel A Brother’s Touch, set in the early days of the gay rights struggle. An incidental witness to history twice, Levy landed in Berlin before German reunification as a trade journalist, translator, and techno party promoter. Currently he calls his native New York City home.