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Adam Mansbach's surprise bestseller Go the F*ck to Sleep has already taken America by storm. Werner Herzog is in on the joke. So is Fox, which recently secured the movie rights. Now it's reached the Germans. One of the more prominent of the foreign translations of this parody-bedtime-story-cum-parental-catharsis, Verdammte Scheiße, schlaf ein! (roughly: "Holy shit, go to sleep!") is taking Mansbach's childrearing woes to the Continent. As in the U.S., the message resonates. In fact, after sparing a moment to marvel over German author Jo Lendle's shockingly good rhyming rendering of the original text, the German reviews mostly dive into the questions troubling parental overthinkers everywhere: First, what does this book say about modern parenting? And, more Teutonically, what does this book say about the bourgeoisie? Marx would have wept. Luckily, unlike Katie Roiphe, the Germans haven't yet turned the book into an excuse to talk about suburban sex lives.
"In Germany the book is coming out ... through DuMont," writes Alexander Schimmelbusch for Die Welt, "masterfully translated--which, given an original text that relies on rhythmizing many words with 'fuck,' is not so easy--by publisher and proven kid-to-bed-getter Jo Lendle himself." Time for the real question:
What does this success mean? Maybe that Mansbach succeeds in exposing the delusions of effeminate affluent societies--that we should show deep and serious understanding for each irrational wish of a small child. This infantile inability to take a real parental role means that grownups deal with their children on equal footing--from the pedagogical perspective a fatal error.
Indeed. Then Die Welt's Richard Kämmerlings, after amusedly announcing the book's "groundbreaking insights: kids don't want to go to bed," notes that, to understand the book, "a look back to the nineties is illuminating." Explanation below, emphasis added:
In perhaps the last decade parenting has become the number one media theme--and this despite the fact that the birth rate has stagnated at practically the lowest level ever. When I first became a father in 1996, children and parents played no role in the media. One swapped stories of problems big and small in the toddlers's group; whoever subscribed to a publication like Parents had quasi-officially unsubscribed from the world. ... In 2007, when my second child was born, everything was different: suddenly one found oneself in the middle of a discussion storm, in which the most banal question--from weaning to sleeping through the night--was a topic for cultural critic-style consideration. ... In the cliche of the Prenzlauer Berg family [rough American equivalent: "soccer mom suburbs"--Prenzlauer Berg is a neighborhood in Berlin currently overflowing with children]--yes, yes, the yoga class for babys and the organic diaper shop--the hidden self-hate of the new bourgeoisie comes out.
He goes on to explain that "fuck-you-children books therefore have two functions," catering to the venting needs of parents and the curiosity or even regret of the childless, alike.
Other reviews are quick to emphasize that Mansbach's book is breaking fresh and yet familiar ground: "The title contains an unutterable truth that so many parents think, but never speak of," writes Christian Zaschke for the Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin in an effort to explain the book's success. "Today it's probably easier to say you're giving up tea for heroin than to say that kids, particularly your own, don't always bring pure joy. It's one of the last taboos of our time," says Johanna Adorján at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Zaschke continues:
On the one hand it's funny, on the other the aggression concealed in the lines is remarkable. This peculiar tension between joke and anger has something uncanny, and brings the charm of the forbidden. Read it to your kids, and they will undoubtedly be wide awake.
Just in case you're curious as to what Go the Fuck to Sleep sounds like in German, we've got here the excerpt some of the German papers are printing. It rhymes quite nicely, actually--just like the original. Have a look at a translator at work. We've lined it up with the original, and provided a literal translation underneath in italics so you can see what Jo Lendle did to tweak the material into place.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.