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The Center of the World    by Andreas Steinhofel order for
Center of the World
by Andreas Steinhofel
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2005 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Andreas Steinhöfel's The Center of the World is steeped in lyrical prose. It was first published as Die Mitte Der Welt in 1998 in Germany (where it won the Buxtehuder Bulle Prize for Best Young Adult Novel), and has been translated by Alisa Jaffa. It's about life - the agony and ecstasy of love found and lost, jealousy and betrayal, and ultimately survival, albeit at a cost. This is a story that begs to be read and savored, as it touches heart and mind with the softness of a feather.

Glass is nine months pregnant when she travels from Boston to Europe to be with her sister Stella, whom she hasn't seen since they were children. Upon arrival in rural Germany, Glass learns of her sister's death. Stella's mansion, Visible, is large and roomy, but deteriorating inside and out - yet, it is a home. Twins Phil and Dianne are born as soon as Glass reaches Visible, and grow up, knowing only that their father is an American. Phil (the narrator) finds escape and protection in a library, which for him is 'the center of the world'. Phil, who is gay, looks to the day when the right one will come along. That turns out to be popular track and field runner Nicholas, who's a little older and taller, with dark hair and eyes.

Entertaining men while giving advice (for money) to women, Glass couldn't care less about the constant glances of disapproval from passersby. She refers to town residents as 'that lot over there' because they live on the other side of the river. Phil muses: 'For me they are the Little People - a term from my nursery days, when I used to think of people who frightened me as tiny, lifeless dolls.' Phil and Dianne are shunned by their school peers, yet Phil develops a friendship with Katja that began when he was five and they were patients in the same hospital ward.

Glass tells her children, 'Be strong and defend yourselves. Anyone who hurts you, hurt them back twice over or keep out of the way, but never let anyone tell you how you ought to live. I love you as you are.' Though Dianne and Phil are close, she later becomes distant and withdrawn. Dianne forms a bond with Kora, staying away from Visible for long hours. And Phil finds mention of a mysterious person named Zephyr in letters in her room. A few people befriend Glass and the children, including one special, distant relative, a mariner named Gable.

Though I found the read tedious now and then, I stayed with it as I was caught up in the lyrical beauty of the author's expressive prose. I held on until the end, exulting in having experienced something rare and unforgettable. Though the novel is aimed at young adults, I recommend The Center of the World to anyone searching for a long, meaningful, stirring read.

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