The Review of Contemporary Fiction


A review of Red Army Faction Blues featured in Vol XXXII of The Review of Contemporary Fiction.

‘A coalition government. A widely mistrusted ruling elite. Riots in the streets and heavy-handed police tactics. Welcome to West Berlin, 1967.’ From the jacket copy onward, Ada Wilson’s Red Army Faction Blues makes its contemporary relevance known. The novel follows a former West German undercover police officer tracking down blues guitarist Peter Green, seeking a resolution to his infiltration and proceeding defection into the radical Berlin underground of the late 1960s. The narrative moves between memories of Berlin and 1989 Thatcherite Britain, where the main character watches the fall of the Berlin Wall; these events making palpable a set of ideological traumas not unrecognizable to the reader of 2012. As a work of historical fiction, Wilson’s prose is artfully light of touch where exposition is concerned. Concise summaries of ideas—from Situationism to the writings of Marcuse—fit naturally into the dialogue of his young revolutionary characters, informing the novitiate reader whilst remaining perfectly unobtrusive to the informed. By utilizing the spy genre, the novel captures a polyphony of voices, offering a compelling picture of a postwar generational divide awash with the specters of the past; the ‘old Nazis’ in charge, the US and British ‘victors’ imposing their culture, and behind the Wall all the poverty and violence of the East. Central to the novel’s impact is the fate of the ‘May ’68’ generation—their most commercially acceptable ideas recuperated into late capitalism, their revolutionary ideals severed by postmodern critical distance. This distance ironically extends to the narrative itself, as the furtive narrator threatens to strip its historically relevant content of the capacity to produce political insight. However, as a novel that is willing to both engage with radical politics and explore postmodern literary form, Red Army Faction Blues is a highly commendable work, audaciously conceived and well executed.

Red Army Faction Blues Website