This unique road-movie of a novel sees Arno Frank and his family travel across Europe in a fresh, humorous take on 1980s life.
Arno’s parents dream of making it big. It’s the 1980s and success seems just around the corner, even for someone living in an unremarkable German town. When his father starts to work for a car dealership, the family seem to have made it. They are rich, and suddenly everything is simple. Arno’s parents relocate the family to the South of France and the children enrol in an expensive private school. But things soon begin to unravel. Arno’s parents start acting strangely, and before long he discovers that his father is a conman. The family’s sudden wealth stems from money he stole from his former employer; the move to France was an attempted escape; and Interpol are looking for them. Leaving all their possessions behind, they go on the run, first to Lisbon, and then back to Germany. What had at first seemed to Arno and his two siblings like an exciting adventure soon turns into an exhausting odyssey. Even their grandmother refuses to take them in. Arno’s father is arrested; the family are now on social welfare, and Arno is back in his old school. From the classroom window he can see the prison where his father is serving his sentence.
Arno Frank’s autobiographical novel begins with an epitaph by Peter O’Toole: ‘I’m not working-class. I come from the criminal classes.’ Frank, a gifted storyteller, takes the reader on a journey through the 1980s, through Europe, and through his own family history. His fine wit is on display on every page: he is a close observer of the details of time and place, and recreates a world that seems entirely authentic. The story of his family is a tragicomedy of aspiration and inevitable disappointment, but it is Frank’s narrator, young Arno, who turns a familiar tale into a unique one. We see everything through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old boy who is only half-aware of the goings-on around him. We admire his father; we are delighted by the sudden access to wealth and the new lifestyle in France; and we’re horrified by what follows.
All recommendations from Spring 2017