It’s hard to know how to talk about this book. Divided into two parts, there is a sort of reveal halfway through and that becomes clearer as the book progresses to the end that makes it clear what this book is about and what sort of book it is. And without given away that reveal, which is the major conceit of the novel, it’s hard to know what to say.
I read The Man Who Saw Everything after reading Emily’s review and I’m glad I did because the first half of the novel didn’t much grab me. Having read her review however, I knew I should keep going and thus was ultimately rewarded. The book begins in 1988 when Saul Adler is struck by a car while crossing Abbey Road. A few days later he leaves for a short stint working in East Berlin. His girlfriend, a photographer, has just broken up with him. Saul is an academic, the first in his working class family to attend university, but describes himself as having rockstar looks. Indeed, he appear’s to be his girlfriend Jennifer’s primary muse and focus in her work. Thus he enters East Berlin in a bruised and battered state, both physically and emotionally.
On the other side of the wall he befriends his German translator, Walter Muller, and Walter’s sister, Luna. Very quickly these relationships become complicated. I don’t want to say much more. This first section is mostly straightforward though there are references to things being not quite what they seem and I was definitely suspicious of Saul’s reliability as narrator.
The second half casts an entirely new light on the first half and expands on Saul’s world and experience. It’s a very interesting exercise in memory and thought and relationships. The book is short and easy to read, well-written and thoughtful. Although it isn’t a deep dive into the history of Soviet culture, I think it would also be of interest to readers more familiar with the divided Berlin than I am. I recommend reading it but also warn the reader, Be patient!