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This Brave Balance

1 rating: 3.0
A 2011 book by Rusalka Reh.

For Dipper, parkour training with Corone, Skylark, and Jay is the passion he needs. It makes him see everything around him as an obstacle that requires a specific move to be conquered, giving him a sense of freedom and a feeling that nothing can stop … see full wiki

Tags: Books, Rusalka Reh
Genre: 4-for-3 Books
Publisher: AmazonCrossing
1 review about This Brave Balance

How good as metaphors for life are Parkour? Origami? Read THIS BRAVE BALANCE and find out.

  • Aug 4, 2011

The year 2010 saw publication of what the author Stephen  Davies called "perhaps the world's first parkour novel,"  HACKING  TIMBUKTU. Parkour, if you haven't already heard of it is a newish sport that originated in France. Its practitioners (males are traceurs, females are traceuses) have as their goal: to move from point A to point B as quickly, efficiently and with as little wasted effort as possible. If obstacles are between A and B, traceurs, if possible, leap over them (a park bench), scale them (a wall), bounce off them and such like.  Much of HACKING TIMBUKTU is an extended comparison between internet hacking and parkour. It might be predicted that students of popular culture would soon grind out more "young people's novels" based on new metaphors.

The new comparisons of soon to be published in 2011 THE BRAVE BALANCE by Rusalka Reh are between parkour and origami (folding paper into shapes) and between them and human life itself. The novel's German original is called ASPHALTSPRINGER ("Asphalt Leaper" or "Pavement Jumper." It has been serviceably translated into non-American (presumably British) English by Katy Derbyshire. The story is set in a large city of today's no longer divided Germany. That city is not named, but appears to be Leipzig, historically one of Germany's two greatest trade fair metropolises. A considerable amount of parkour training takes place in the apparently abandoned old East German trade fair grounds.

The novel begins by introducing the members of The Urban Planetbirds, four 16-year old German boys who learn and practice parkour together. Each has taken the name of a bird (some names presumably are more common in Britain than in the USA -- such as Corone (the scavenger crow). Corone brags about his sexual conquests. Novel's narrator is Dipper, a bird "rather quick and quiet in its ways." The third member is Skylark. And the fourth Urban Planetbird is Jay. Corone's ten year old, a bit retarded sister often tags along with her brother and wants a bird's name, too. She is christened Kittiwake. And is proud of her progress at "dipshit school."

In their first conversation that we overhear, Corone compares parkour with having sex and Jay says it "is kinda like flying. It makes your free because you leap over everything that gets in your way: fences, walls, tashcans,even garages if you like, anything and everything. You don't take detours. You don't let anything stop you. You're so totally absorbed in your own body, you switch your head to empty."

As October turns into November, Leipzig turns downright cold and gets steadily colder till the novel climaxes around Christmas time with the local river (Pleisse?) full of floating ice. One cold November day Corone's latest ex-girl friend shows up and asks to join the group. She already has a bird's name, Kite. Her parents live in Wales. Her mother is German. She is 19 and studying at the local university. Like the rest of them, Kite has a secret: she is already a proficient traceuse, apparently better than any of the four boys, but she pretends to be a novice.

Each of the boys' families is under a different form of stress. Dipper's mother is a widow and keeps a public latrine clean. Dipper himself has recently dropped out of school and does odd jobs on construction sites to help out with family expenses.The parents of Corone and Kittiwake have vanished and their water and electricity are soon turned off. Early on we meet Jay's father, Professor Bigshot, a lawyer. HIs wife had run away from home, taking Jay's younger brother. We are given little clues that something is not quite right about Professor Bigshot. He willingly becomes a regular baby sitter for young Kittiwake.

And the story is off and running. There is a glossary of parkour terminology at novel's end: curiously a bit out of alphabetical order. The 22 chapters are not numbered. Parkour is more often talked about than shown in action, with a couple of exceptions including the tale's dramatic ending on the frozen river bank. Dipper dreams a lot and it is not always clear whether he is describing a dream or external reality. A mysterious Asiatic man appears and shows him how parkour is an image of real human life. The girl Kite does the same regarding the art of paper shaping: origami. 

I have not read the original German (and do not intend to), but the translation appears at times clumsy and off target. In the chapter "Breaking Through," for example, Corone and Dipper are riding a train to the old trade fair to practice parkour. Corone never buys tickets. When caught by two inspectors, looking like Laurel and Hardy," who threaten arrest, Corone waited for the train's doors to hiss open. He then "ducked under Laurel's arm, dodged past Hardy, and jumped up on a strap hanging from the ceiling. From there, he swung himself out of the doors: saut de fond and a roll across the street." Somehow there has to be a better translation than "jumped up on a strap."

The Urban Planetbirds encounter police with fair regularity, also occasional skinheads, neo-Nazis and leftist radicals, who sometimes complicate their efforts to find perfect places to practice parkour. This basically forgettable novel might work well as the basis of a parkour action movie, but is light on bringing the reader into the moves and ethos of the novel's traceurs and, eventually, two traceuses. Slowly the boys learn that their parkour moves take place against dark, emerging tragedy. I have read worse.



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