Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

As the personal account of the identity crisis of a man in his thirties and as a political novel of social criticism, Sleepless Days joins the mainstream of the contemporary German novel, from Franz Kafka’s Der Prozess (1925; The Trial, 1937) to Gunter Grass’s Die Blechtrommel (1959; The Tin Drum, 1961) and Heinrich Boll’s Ansichten eines Clowns (1963; The Clown, 1965). Neither of these aspects renders the novel publishable in the German Democratic Republic. It appeared in the Federal Republic of Germany while the author was living, temporarily, as he says, in West Berlin. The fact that Becker writes as a dissident accounts for the novel’s more frequent classification as a political novel, while it is less often placed in the category of a psychological Bildungsroman. The novel is by no means a political tract. It simply develops the universal theme of an existential crisis against the backdrop of an oppressive society well familiar to the author. Similar to Becker’s other novels, Sleepless Days avoids moral outrage or frantic preaching. Its effect on the reader grows out of convincing arguments presented with clarity in a quiet and judicious manner. Becker disregards absolutely the prescriptive norms of Socialist Realism, a prerequisite for a successful writing career in a Communist state.