1,000 Coils of Fear

A Novel


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Book Description

A multilayered and rhythmic debut novel about her life as a Black German woman living in Berlin and New York during the chaos of the 2016 U.S. presidential election from playwright Olivia Wenzel.

A young woman attends a play about the fall of the Berlin Wall—and realizes she is the only Black person in the audience.

She and her boyfriend are hanging out by a lake outside Berlin—and four neo-Nazis show up.

In New York, she is having sex with a stranger on the night of the 2016 presidential election—and wakes up to panicked texts from her friends in Germany about Donald Trump’s unlikely victory.

Engaging in a witty Q&A with herself—or is it her alter ego?—she takes stock of our rapidly changing times, sometimes angry, sometimes amused, sometimes afraid, and always passionate. And she tells the story of her family: Her mother, a punk in former East Germany who never had the freedom she dreamed of. Her Angolan father, who returned to his home country before she was born to start a second family. Her grandmother, whose life of obedience to party principles brought her prosperity and security but not happiness. And her twin brother, who took his own life at the age of nineteen.

Heart-rending, opinionated, and wry, Olivia Wenzel’s remarkable debut novel is a clear-sighted and polyphonic investigation into origins and belonging, the roles society wants to force us into and why we need to resist them, and the freedoms and fears that being the odd one out brings.

About the Authors

Praise For This Book

Longlisted for the Dublin Literary Prize
Longlisted for the National Translation Award
A Millions Most Anticipated Book of the Year

"[A] stunning debut novel, is translated superbly by Priscilla Layne. It’s a powerful evocation of a life marked by racism; one step away from the 'hatred that refugees face permanently.' There’s much to admire in her incisiveness, originality and compassion." —Lucy Popescu, The Observer

"A debut novel as layered and melodic as any symphony or opera." —Karla Strand, Ms.

"Wenzel’s unique literary voice carries the reader through meditations on origins, grief, racial identity, love, and belonging." —Booklist

"A powerful portrait of a woman finding, losing, and rediscovering herself in 21st-century Germany . . . Wenzel has a knack for capturing feelings and moments of tension . . . An exciting, confident debut." —Publishers Weekly

"German musician, performer, and playwright Wenzel makes an auspicious fiction debut . . . A prismatic novel, thoughtful and unsettling." —Kirkus Reviews

"A Top Summer Debut." —Library Journal

"An audacious and disturbing novel." —Michelle de Kretser, author of Scary Monsters

"This novel’s mixed-race young narrator interrogates her own painful past and confusion of selves—German Angolan, child of an East Germany erased by unification, boy lovers girl lovers, badass and vulnerable, cowering and defiant—in a voice so exuberant, inventive, brainy, sensitive, and hilarious that it’s like a pyrotechnic flare illuminating the whole woman, past and present, radiant, unique, a voice and a novel to take with us into the future." —Francisco Goldman, author of Monkey Boy

“Olivia Wenzel’s bold and exceptional novel, 1,000 Coils of Fear, tells stories in many voices—of her estranged family, of female and male lovers, of her nation, once home to Nazis and the KGB, still inhospitable to immigrants, and to its Black German author. Wenzel’s novel is not just of and from contemporary Germany, it proposes a different German novel. Her impressive writing, born of a brilliant mind, surprises—stylistically, and by its frankness and associations. An uncompromising consciousness leaps from sentence to sentence, city to city, in love, depressed, alienated, afraid, and contradictory. She is asked, ‘Where are you?’ She asks, ‘Where am I?’ I rode in the passenger seat, beside the beauty and strangeness of 1,000 Coils of Fear.” —Lynne Tillman, author of Men and Apparitions and MOTHERCARE