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Even though each of the men has their gripping story, Tellkamp devises his own system of time, which lingers on some episodes, just to speed up others and offer them relatively little space. If there is a plot it wears thin over the hundreds of anecdotes he weaves into the beautiful, rich and capricious language of his narrative. Though the heavily populated novel and its many directions threaten to lose focus, Tellkamp still offers a vast survey of life in the GDR, seeking a documentary as well as a philosophical truth. Nevertheless, he steers clear of "Ostalgie", nostalgia for the good old days of the GDR that some of its former citizens still feel. "There is no Ostalgie. That is something for the former hippies of the GDR, who could scrape by on next to nothing. The Social Democrats themselves feel no Ostalgie. They are energised, as they keenly feel their loss. Let us never forget what really caused the demise of this country: The SED [East German Communists] and the Soviet System," says Tellkamp. "Look at Bulgaria, look at Romania, who did not have a Federal Republic who was there to sort them out." Still, he chose "Tales of a lost country" as the book's subtitle. "It is a lost country. Its colours, its smells and fragrances, its sounds, brands, codes and ways of behaviour are forever gone. The period from after World War II, which ended in West Germany in the Wirtschaftswunder — the economic miracle of the '50s — just continued in the East until the end of the '80s."

The end of the '80s: a sad decade dominated by fear — how would things end? "We had no idea what would happen. Nobody expected it so soon, and nobody expected its utterly peaceful way." Have extra supplies of blood ready: this blunt message is sent in Tellkamp's novel from Berlin to Dresden, as the protests grow and grow. The end of Tellkamp's tale basks in light and hope: "All their faces showed the fear of the last few days . . . but also something new: they shone    . . . already full of pride that this directness was possible." He evokes the moment when the chant of the candle-lit Montagsmärsche — the peaceful demonstrations taking place in Leipzig and Dresden every Monday night — turns from "We are the people" to "We are a people." Here one almost wishes that the translator Michael Mitchell — and translating The Tower must have been a Herculean task which he has tackled bravely and diligently — had chosen the word "folk". The German original statement "Wir sind ein Volk" expresses in all its simplicity everything there was and is to say about the demise of the GDR and German reunification.

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