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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Heroes like Us

Thomas Brussig

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To purchase Heroes like Us

Title: Heroes like Us
Author: Thomas Brussig
Genre: Novel
Written: 1995
Length: 323 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Heroes like Us - US
Heroes like Us - UK
Heroes like Us - Canada
Helden wie wir - Deutschland
Le Complexe de Klaus - France
  • German title: Helden wie wir
  • Translated by John Brownjohn
  • Helden wie wir was made into a film in 1999, directed by Sebastian Peterson

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Our Assessment:

B : fun version of the fall of East Germany, but too simple, obvious, and forced in its humour

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 11/11/1995 .
FAZ A 10/10/1995 Sabine Brandt
The LA Times B 6/2/1998 Michael Frank
The Nation B+ 22/12/1997 William Maxwell
NZZ A 10/10/1995 Marion Löhndorf
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 21/12/1997 Michael Upchurch
Salon B 2/12/1997 Maud Casey
The Spectator B- 21/2/1998 Michael Hulse
Die Zeit A 8/9/1995 Christoph Dieckmann

  Review Consensus:

  The German critics praise it to the skies as the first great novel reckoning with the fall of the GDR. Foreign critics find it fairly amusing, though all (to varying degrees) think Brussig goes over the top. But they also find some useful insights regarding East German life.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mr. Brussig has laced his book with extravagant sexual escapades, which have shocked people who half-thought that behind the drab curtains on those grim eastern streets dissidents were all reading Solzhenitsyn and Milton Friedman." - The Economist

  • "Es ist eine gelächterschwangere Groteske. Aber Brussig macht nicht nur lachen, er zwingt auch zum Ernst." - Sabine Brandt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Heroes Like Us is a riff whose outrageousness tends to feel more forced than funny. At the same time, the novel manages to take the Western reader into a world that, while no longer actually shrouded from view, does still remain obscure to us." - The Los Angeles Times, Michael Frank

  • "Published in the United States in a competent translation by John Brownjohn, (Heroes Like Us ) is bound to have an impact here, for its humor and poignancy easily cross cultural barriers. Brussig has concocted a compelling G.D.R. anti-hero's Bildungsroman and reunification novel. (...) In Klaus we have Brussig's exaggerated, absurd figure of the G.D.R. Everyman, the civil coward who formed the backbone of one of the world's most intrusive police states." - William Maxwell, The Nation

  • "Die Stasi-Schergen sind die unglaublichsten Karikaturen, Brussigs nassforsche, intelligente Prosa entfaltet sich hier in brüllend komischen Szenen. Resultat: die Entdämonisierung des Mythos Stasi mit einem Hang zur Verniedlichung." - Marion Löhndorf, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Jittery, depraved, sycophantic, publicity-seeking yet utterly naive and hopelessly duped, Klaus Uhltzscht -- his country's "most abject zombie" -- is as startling and memorable a character as anyone could want." - Michael Upchurch, The New York Times Book Review

  • "This is a wacky glimpse from behind the scenes -- a German bestseller that is one of the first novels to address the fall of the Berlin Wall by an author who grew up with it. Every couple of reels, though, you find yourself longing for some anti-comic relief." - Maud Casey, Salon

  • "Heroes Like Us was a bestseller in Germany, which is a pity, partly because the German sense of humour is richer and subtler than this sweaty novel suggests, but mainly because there is far more to be said about 1989 than is dreamt of in this unpeopled book." - Michael Hulse, The Spectator

  • "Summa: Deutsche, lest Helden wie wir !" - Christoph Dieckmann, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Thomas Brussig's bestselling Heroes like us remains one of the most popular fictions dealing with the collapse of communism in East Germany. The often rude and crude novel is narrated (ostensibly to a correspondent for The New York Times, a Mr. Kitzelstein) by its anti-hero, the at one point phenomenally well endowed Klaus Uhltzscht who claims to have contributed no small part to the fall of the Wall. He is, as he says, the missing link in Germany's history, and this is the story of how he helped shape it.
       Born in August 1968, as Soviet tanks rumble by on their way to set things right in Czechoslovakia, Uhltzscht's life is clearly coloured by the politics and atmosphere around him. The fact that dad works for the Stasi (the secret police) and mom is a cleanliness fanatic who can't quite come to terms with Klaus's sexual maturing doesn't simplify his life -- though he certainly aims and takes pains to please.
       Much of the book is devoted to Uhltzscht's sexual obsessions -- his pursuit of women and his frequent onanistic exertions -- culminating notably in one misadventure that leads to him breaking both wrists (temporarily hampering his style). Uhltzscht also describes living in the German Democratic Republic, with all the attendant absurdities. Following in his father's footsteps he eventually winds up working for the Stasi himself. His flunky job is relatively harmless, but makes for much rich material on the absurdities of such security organizations and bureaucracies.
       An accident on the job in 1989 leads to complications that involve both his sexual organ and the coming down of the Berlin Wall -- a case where Brussig tries to do far too much for comic effect.
       Uhltzscht's narration veers all over. There are a number of amusing situations as well as some incisive remarks about life in East Germany to be found among all of this. On the whole, however, the book veers too wildly and loudly. It is an interesting picture of the old East painted here, but Brussig's later, more restrained Am kürzeren Ende der Sonnenallee (see our review) manages to do considerably more in a far shorter book.

Please note that this review refers to the original German version.

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Heroes Like Us: Reviews: Helden wie wir - the film: Thomas Brussig: Other books by Thomas Brussig under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See also the index of German literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       German author Thomas Brussig was born in Berlin in 1965. He grew up in the German Democratic Republic.

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