Alone at home in a nice bourgeois house, 14-year-old Maik expects to spend dull school summer holidays in Berlin.
He thinks he does not have friends because he is boring; he has a crush on his classmate Tatjana, who does not notice him; his mum is on a “beauty farm” for a detox, and his dad is on a “business trip” with his beautiful young mistress.
Then new classmate Andrej Tschichatschow, aka Tschick, shows up, a German returnee from Russia. When the two are not invited to Tatjana’s birthday party, Tschick steals a Lada Niva and the two social outcasts decide to go on a road trip across Germany into the Wallachia region, even though they do not have a clue where that is.
The witty Maik and entertaining, yet peculiar Tschick, develop a friendship during this journey on which they meet odd and engaging characters, leading to hilarious and sometimes hair-raising situations.
There is a particularly touching episode involving Isa, an apparently homeless girl they meet at a garbage dump who helps them out when their car runs out of petrol, and they make friends with her.
Und vielleicht stimmte das ja auch, und der Mensch war zu 99% schlecht. Aber das Seltsame war, dass Tschick und ich auf unserer Reise fast ausschlieβlich dem einen Prozent begegneten, das nicht schlecht war.
And maybe it was true, and man was 99% bad. But the strange thing was that, on our journey, Tschick and I almost exclusively met the one percent that wasn’t bad.
Other episodes feature a weird but amiable eco-friendly family and a sympathetic speech therapist who gives them a lesson while driving them to a hospital after she has accidentally hurt Maik by dropping a fire extinguisher on his foot.
Finally, the two wreck the car in an almost surreal accident. However, owing to this adventure, Maik’s social status among the classmates skyrockets and even Tatjana seems to be getting interested in him.
The basic plot about two runaway lads has predecessors in literature, but the story also stands very much on its own with its fast-paced narration, witty dialogues and adolescent reflections.
The adults they meet appear strangely alien but almost all are decent and kind, if sometimes a little dotty.
In this moving and funny road-trip novel, Herrndorf tells a story of coming of age, friendship and essentially about the inherent good in people.
This wonderfully light-hearted and entertaining book is highly recommended. You will feel better after reading it.
Wolfgang Herrndorf | Tschick | Rowohlt Verlag, 2010 | 256 Seiten | ISBN-13: 978-3499256356
Wolfgang Herrndorf | Why We Took The Car (translated by Tim Mohr) | Andersen Press Ltd, 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-1783440313