Review: Zoo Station by Christiane Felscherinow

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cover of zoo stationIn Zoo Station: The Story of Christiane F. (Zest Books, 2013), readers are given an up-close and personal look into the life of addiction — one so haunting and ceaseless, that like a predator to its prey, it snares a victim in without hope for rescue.

As William S. Burroughs wrote in his novel, Naked Lunch: “Beyond a certain frequency need knows absolutely no limit or control.” Indeed, as readers meet young narrator, Christiane Felscherinow, we so too come to know the painstaking frequency of need as a life comes undone before our very eyes.

Felscherinow begins with a glimpse into her early childhood, one memory of happiness before her family moved from German farmlands to the city of Berlin — a move that would eventually prove futile. Felscherinow had quickly learned after moving to the Gropiusstadt projects that “in order to have fun, you had to break the rules.” The memoir quickly progresses into a harrowing tell-all of one young woman’s life destined for ruin. However, just as readers can envision the book growing dim, a light finally emerges through Felscherinow’s self-awareness.

The memoir, set in the Zoo Subway Station (Banhhof Zoo), Gropiusstadt housing projects, and neighboring areas in West Berlin was first published in Germany in 1979. In 1982, after receiving widespread exposure, the book was translated and published in America. Now, after more than three decades following the first publication, the book has been retranslated with never before seen images of Felscherinow’s life. The presentation of the new translation not only preserves Felscherinow’s voice, but also sheds light on the wayward life of addiction for young people, “encourag[ing] them to take a fresh look at the choices that remain open to them — whatever their situation.”

The overall work and translation are impeccable. Felscherinow, who wrote the memoir in her early teens, demonstrates a great breadth of maturity and accountability throughout. As a result, readers are unable to hide from Felscherinow’s past as we are given every unfortunate detail from where her addiction first began, to where the disease eventually led her — down an unsteady path of sickness, prostitution, deprivation, and total loss of self. Now, years later, Felscherinow’s life and words have provided a way of educating those suffering from addiction.

In the end, Felscherinow’s conclusion remains ambiguous. Readers may wonder what happens next, but ultimately, Felscherinow implores readers to change their lives for the better having seen the worst. The memoir then offers resources regarding drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, rape and abuse, and suicide prevention — all subject matter depicted and discussed within the book.

Zoo Station: The Story of Christiane F. is highly recommended for those who have overcome addiction, are currently in the process, or those who feel all is lost. Even at the bottom, Felscherinow demonstrates, having gone through hell and back, that there is hope.

Rating: 4 of 4 stars.

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