Unterleuten (Juli Zeh)

Unterleuten is a novel by Juli Zeh. Unterleuten is the name of a village, but also a pun: “unter Leuten” literally means “among people”.
Finished on: 31.5.2018

Unterleuten is a remote village in Brandenburg. It has become a favorite destination for city people growing tired of Berlin and preferring to live in the country, like Gerhard and Jule or Frederik and Linda. Not all of the original villagers are happy about that, but they are more occupied with their own rivalries like Gombrowski and Kron who have been fighting for decades. Things start to escalate when an energy company announces that it wants to build a wind farm right next to Unterleuten – a lucrative opportunity for some, a catastrophe for others.

Unterleuten has great characters and a really amazing setting. It’s really fascinating to see how many ways things can go to hell, but I would have liked a less depressing ending.

Unterleuten is a sprawling novel told from many different perspectives. I was really impressed by Zeh’s ability to handle those perspective shifts. Each and every single one of the characters was completely understandable and (mostly) reasonable when you saw the world through their eyes, but then the perspective changes and you look at those same characters from the outside and they are all unkind, inconsiderate assholes.

Personally, I didn’t find one character I really identified with which I find a little disappointing – Unterleuten is the kind of novel where you should find yourself, I think, and reflect your own behavior a little shamefacedly. But it didn’t matter much that I didn’t recognize myself here because just empathizing with the characters gave me enough to do. And there was a lot I could feel with.

Surprisingly I found that the men inspired more of emotional responses. That’s not usually the case when I read a book and it makes me wonder if that’s just coincidence here or maybe internalized misogyny rearing its ugly head. And if it is the latter, is it my own or Zeh’s misogyny? That’s not to say that I couldn’t understand the female characters, but they just triggered less of a compassionate response on my part.

Unfortunately, I found the ending to be pretty frustrating. It was too depressing and a touch overly dramatic in some parts and didn’t work that well for me. But since up until the very end, I really enjoyed reading this book (and it’s not a short one), I can easily forgive this and recommend the book anyway.

Summarizing: A very nice read.

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