The best stories set in the '80s (of the 20th century, that is)

Who am I?

I'm a child of the 80s. Growing up in West Berlin, when Allied soldiers patrolled the streets, had a huge impact on my view of the world. There was this underlying feeling of uneasiness. I was well aware that Russian soldiers with tanks and nuclear weapons were waiting on the other side of the wall. Fascinating, terrifying times indeed. To convey this atmosphere to my readers is my foremost drive to write stories set within the framework of the cold war. Cheers and nastrovje!


I wrote...

Iron Curtain 1987

By Raf Beuy, Christophe Bugetti (illustrator),

Book cover of Iron Curtain 1987

What is my book about?

What interested me most about this topic is the underlying continuity of the old Prussian attitude of mind within the framework of East German socialism. A gruesome mixture indeed. But see for yourself. 

The American citizen Adam Hedman followed his ideals and went to the land of his ancestors, which is behind the Iron Curtain in the German East. As all his hope is lost and he only wants to see justice for his family, a coworker vanishes, and he gets blackmailed into looking for her. Unwillingly he starts a hunt for the man who took her. A dangerous cat-and-mouse game with the socialist secret services unfolds, where it is impossible to emerge as a victor. Or is it?

The books I picked & why

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White Noise

By Don DeLillo,

Book cover of White Noise

Why this book?

MortalityWhite Noise is not so much a novel. To me, it's more of a wildly amusing collection of clever observations about life. The book's protagonist is a professor of Hitler studies, something he invented. And that's not the last thing he invents. He's invented a patchwork family of absurd proportions. In fact, he invents so much that he doesn't know what to believe. And there we are at the center of this novel: what can we believe in when we don't even know if death is finite or if there is life after death. The absurdity of mortality as we ride through American academia. If you sometimes wonder if it's all real or just a simulation, this book is for you.


A Time to Kill

By John Grisham,

Book cover of A Time to Kill

Why this book?

White supremacy. Is this genre literature or a witty comment on racism? You can guess the answer. It's both. Grisham puts a lawyer at the center of this story about the murder of a Black girl and her father, who avenges her death. What follows is not just a courtroom drama but the chaos and tragedy of a small town in the American South that is far from having thrown off the shackles of the American slave trade. When I picked up A Time to Kill, I was looking for a suspenseful story, but I got so much more. For example, insight into white privilege. What more could you ask for?


Polar Star

By Martin Cruz Smith,

Book cover of Polar Star

Why this book?

Glasnost. Honestly, I was expecting to pick Gorky Park for this list. The first installment of the Arkady Renko series made a significant impression on me as a teenager, as I was completely immersed in the gritty life in the Soviet Union. But then I found Polar Star in my library and remembered what I loved about this story. It is as tightly woven as the weirs of the net spun by the fishing boat where the murder investigator Renko now has to work. It's set on a fishing boat that mimics Russian society. And even during the liberalization of the late eighties, it becomes clear: the Soviet Union is the Soviet Union is the Soviet Union.


Trainspotting

By Irvine Welsh,

Book cover of Trainspotting

Why this book?

Self-abandonment. Haud oan a second. Ah wanted tae see Jean-Claude smash up this arrogant fucker.

You don't understand a word? Don't worry; you'll get the hang of it. Scotland is far from the rest of the world, as you can tell by the language. But in a way, this book is about what's happening in the world. It's about how to get lost and not find yourself again in the world. Just like Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo a decade earlier. It is a series of short stories that show the lives of people who follow no career path, who have no specific plot in mind for themselves, and end up with only random snippets of life, decay, and death—glimpses into the sad lives of people who get a fix when everything no longer makes sense. The stories are sometimes hard to take, but Welsh's writing style makes them worthwhile. 


American Psycho

By Bret Easton Ellis,

Book cover of American Psycho

Why this book?

Nihilism. Welcome to the world of Bret Easton Ellis, where nothing is as it seems. In the end, the protagonist has to ask himself if he really is a murderer or just a bored yuppie with too much imagination, so it would help if you didn't take this story too literally. I read it as a satire of the materialistic extravagance of the late 80s in its focal point of Manhattan. This book feels like a preview of what social media has brought us. Insecurities are brutal. Where individualism is becoming more sophisticated, no one achieves individuality anymore. No matter what I do, am I really seen for who I am? Or am I at all?


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