(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Sleepless Days narrates the story of an identity crisis precipitated by what may have been a heart attack. Karl Simrock, a high-school teacher in East Berlin, suddenly realizes that he is mortal and that, without ever being dissatisfied with a routine life, he spent thirty-six years waiting for some unspecified event that never came. It is time to take inventory. The apparent satisfaction with his life was an illusion born of powerlessness and a fear of commitment. In actuality, he is deeply disturbed by the fact that he has never dared to form an opinion and to make his voice count. His marriage is lackluster, held together by a tiresome bedroom routine. He cares little for either his daughter or his mother. In school, he is required to advocate a spurious moral code that is determined by the administration and not at all his own. Even though he has accepted Marxist principles as valid, he has never made an effort to examine their efficacy. Simrock realizes that he must either take his life in hand or live to regret a wasted existence. He decides to act. This decision takes courage, and its implementation drains him of energy. Yet in the end, his heart—which he had thought was in bad shape—is bearing up nicely, and anxiety becomes an energizing force.

The process of changing his life is often painful and, at times, deeply disappointing. It is a process of gain and loss. After divorcing his wife, Ruth, he falls in love with Antonia, a former...

(The entire section is 460 words.)