Next Door Lived a Girl

First off, this is an extremely graphic book. There is sexual abuse and violence directed at children, and it is dark and extremely graphic. If you are sensitive to that kind of thing, you should probably take a pass on this book. Even if you are not, you will probably need to sit with your thoughts for a minute, or spend some time watching kitten videos on the internet, or whatever your personal response to distressing literary stimulus is.

Next Door Lived a Girl follows a few months in the life of Moritz, a pre-adolescent boy in a rural German town. The narrative is dominated by the intersection of sex and violence. Moritz is the target of sometimes humiliating sexual advances by older women, including his sister and his mother. His play with his fellow 6th-grade friends is often sexual, as is their rivalry with another gang of slightly older boys. And when the violence kicks up, it too is highly sexualized, either inherently or as an expression of sexual domination. The fact that these are all children at the center of the action, and the discovery of a feral and mentally disabled girl the boy’s age, make all this far more disturbing.

Stefan Kiesbye’s prose is recognizably German -terse and bleak descriptions that remind me of the sentences of Herta Muller, albeit far less figurative. The writing is brutally direct, brutally literal, giving the reader no comfort in the ambiguity of poetic expression. When something horrible is happening, there is no doubt as to the specificity of it. The sentences are short and expository, almost a linguistic revolt against the expansive compounding of the German language, and the close third-person narration provides free indirect characterization of Moritz that reminds you, again and again, that these are children doing these things, having these things done to them.

Recommendation: Read it, but, you, know. Trigger warning. This is very good, but this is some pretty dark shit.