Peirene No. 24

Dance by the Canal

Kerstin Hensel


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  • Description

    A tragicomic satire from the heart of East Germany. 

    Gabriela grows up in the East German town of Leibnitz. Her father is a famous surgeon, her mother a respected society hostess. The girl, however, struggles to fulfil their expectations. She shows no talent as a violinist and, worse, she fails to choose the right friends at school. When her father falls out of favour with the communists, Gabriela drops out of school. Eventually she ends up living beneath a canal bridge. Then the Wall falls. Can Gabriela seize a second chance in the new, united, Germany?

    Why Peirene chose to publish this book:
    When I pass homeless women, I look into their faces and wonder: why her and not me? I sense that maybe our differences are not as great as I would like to believe. Dance by the Canal tells the story of a woman who fails to find her place in society – neither in communist GDR nor in the capitalist West. Her refusal to conform to the patriarchal structures of both societies forces her into ever-increasing isolation. This book will make you think.

    Written by Kerstin Hensel.
    Translated from the German by Jen Calleja.

    East and West Series
    120pp, paperback with flaps, £12
    Published September 2017
    ISBN 978-1-908670-38-0
    eISBN 978-1-908670-39-7

  • Author

    Kerstin Hensel was born in 1961 in Karl-Marx Stadt in former East Germany and studied in Leipzig. She has published over 30 books: novels, short story collections, poetry and plays. She has won numerous prizes, including the Anna-Seghers prize as well as the Lessing prize for her entire body of work.

  • Translator

    Jen Calleja is a writer, literary translator from German, editor and musician. She has translated book-length works for Fitzcarraldo Editions and Bloomsbury, as well as short fiction, essays, articles and poetry. Her debut poetry collection Serious Justice was published by Test Centre. She is columnist for literature in translation for The Quietus and translator in residence at the Austrian Cultural Forum London. She is also acting editor of New Books in German and editor of Anglo-German arts journal Verfreundungseffekt.


  • Press

    ‘Hensel’s process of holding up for scrutiny, as though with forceps, the past and present of East and West, of a unified Germany, is highly original, dismissing categories, easy judgement or any naturalness in the transition.’                Mika Provata-Carlone, Bookanista

    ‘An intense story… grotesque, macabre, poetic.’                Neues Deutschland

    ‘Hensel’s writing is often striking – Gabriela’s mother’s grief is ‘a siren [which] wailed from inside her’ – and her characters vividly realised.’ Susan Osborne, A Life in Books

    ‘30 years of East German history narrated with laconic irony.’ Die Zeit

    ‘This is another extraordinarily powerful tale from the Peirene fountain: a somewhat uncomfortable read, but full of food for thought.’ Alison Burns, Bookoxygen