Lebert, Benjamin 1982–
Lebert, Benjamin 1982–
Born January 9, 1982, in Freiberg, Germany. Education: Castle Nueseelen Boarding School.
Writer for young-adult supplement of Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich, Germany.
Crazy, translated from German by Carol Brown Janeway, Knopf (New York, NY), 2000.
Der Vogel is ein Rabe, Goldmann (Munich, Germany), 2005, English translation by Peter Constantine published as The Bird Is a Raven, Knopf (New York, NY), 2005.
Crazy was adapted for film by producers Jakob Claussen and Thomas Wobke, directed by Hans-Christian Schmid, and won numerous awards in Germany.
Benjamin Lebert, sometimes called a wunderkind in the world of contemporary German literature, achieved immediate success with the publication of his coming-of-age novel, Crazy. Written when the author was only fifteen, the book was an overnight sensation among German youth. By the end of 2001 it had sold over 300,000 copies in Germany alone, and its American publication marked another milestone for Lebert, who was then eighteen. The novel was eventually translated into twenty-five languages.
The protagonist of this semi-autobiographical novel also bears the name Benjamin Lebert, and, like the author, he is handicapped and a school dropout. Crazy tells the story of a boy who has failed at several boarding schools and has now entered a new one in a last-ditch attempt to graduate. He soon acquires several colorful friends who join him in a mutual journey of self-discovery, experimenting with drugs, sex, smoking, and alcohol while reflecting often on the meaning of their lives. Benni, as he is called, joins his friends on several escapades, including a raid on the girls' dorm and a forbidden trip to Munich. Despite his growing feeling of belonging, Benni in the end does not improve his grades and is forced to leave the school.
In an interview with Simon Hattenstone in the Guardian, Lebert said that he started writing monster stories around the age of nine and began Crazy during weekends at home from school. He told Hattenstone that through writing, "you can invent your own world. There's a kind of purity…. You have to be very honest and very close to yourself." He indicated that he was angered to find that some reviewers thought the book was actually written by his father, a journalist. His former teachers, he said, had little confidence in his writing abilities: "They said I was a loser…. But I feel in some way everyone is not a loser. Everyone is brave in some way."
Lebert's rise to fame began when German author Maxim Biller read one of Lebert's pieces in a youth supplement to a German newspaper and faxed it to his own publishing house, which later decided to publish and promote Crazy. The book's often-mentioned similarities to J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye prompted Lebert to remark to Allison Linn in an interview in Book: "Without Catcher in the Rye, this book never would have been written." Linn noted that "Lebert has clearly captured the hearts of so many German teens in part because he so unabashedly revealed his insecure and sensitive side in the novel—the child still trapped in the teen-ager."
Many reviews of Crazy mentioned Lebert's obvious potential as a writer. In the New York Times Book Review, Jeffrey Eugenides commented on the book's tendency to "blather on and on" as "Lebert's band of schoolboys wax philosophic," and criticized the "sketchy characterization" and "unjustified behavior" evident in the story. But Eugenides also found that "on a purely linguistic level [Lebert] writes clearly and adequately." Max Brzezinski, writing in the Antioch Review, called the book "cliché-ridden" and "superficial," but acknowledged that it "shows genuine promise." Hattenstone concluded that "Crazy is a beautiful book about someone grasping freedom for the first time." Booklist reviewer Kristine Huntley commented: "Lebert's voice is enticing from the first page, and his witty but simple observations make this book an impressive first novel from a talented young writer."
Lebert's next book, Der Vogel is ein Rabe, published in English translation as The Bird Is a Raven, is a short novel that depicts a long conversation between people who meet on a train. The narrator, Paul, is initially friendly to Henry, a stranger with whom he shares a berth. He is soon overwhelmed, however, by Henry's frank talk about his troubled relationships, his violent impulses, and his sexual inhibitions. Evaluating The Bird Is a Raven for the New York Times Book Review, Etelka Lehoczky credited the young author with having a well-realized "master plan" in a book that has "a sense of delicately balanced tension." A Kirkus Reviews writer called The Bird Is a Raven a "jagged, lyrical … gem" that "shines darkly."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Antioch Review, winter, 2001, Max Brzezinski, review of Crazy, p. 111.
Booklist, February 15, 2000, Kristine Huntley, review of Crazy, p. 1052; November 1, 2005, Kristine Huntley, review of The Bird Is a Raven, p. 24.
Guardian (London, England), July 31, 2000, Simon Hattenstone, "Portrait: Flawed Genius," p. 8.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2005, review of The Bird Is a Raven, p. 1160.
Library Journal, April 1, 2000, Judith Kicinski, review of Crazy, p. 130; February 1, 2006, Christopher Korenowsky, review of The Bird Is a Raven, p. 72.
Los Angeles Times, April 28, 2000, Heller McAlpin, "Thoughtful Teens Populate Young Writer's Coming-of-Age Tale," p. E3.
New York Times Book Review, May 14, 2000, Jeffrey Eugenides, "Pup Fiction," p. 12; January 29, 2006, Etelka Lehoczky, review of The Bird Is a Raven.
Publishers Weekly, March 20, 2000, review of Crazy, p. 73; October 17, 2005, review of The Bird Is a Raven, p. 42.
School Library Journal, August, 2000, Sheryl Fowler, review of Crazy, p. 212.
Book, http://www.bookmagazine.com/ (May-June, 2000), profile of Leber and excerpt from Crazy.