BOOK REVIEW / Novels in brief: Raven - Thomas Strittmatter, trs Ian Mitchell: Chatto, pounds 9.99

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The Independent Culture
This tragi-comic first novel by a prizewinning young German writer transcends the average Bildungsroman - and you hope it isn't autobiographical - through the enticing flow of its prose and its sumptuous characterisation. From the headmistress who assembles her pupils in the night to witness the disastrous birth of a calf to the poignant Deafman, brother of a local farmer, each of Strittmatter's fascinating characters propels along the story of Raven, as he grows up in the 1960s among near-delinquent friends at a rural boarding school, and his subsequent strange jobs, stranger sexual encounters and eventual grim mistakes. This is a funny book with a brutal side, elegantly written, and without the stiltedness that sometimes afflicts translations.