"Alle Toten fliegen hoch - Amerika" by Joachim Meyerhoff was a recommendation from my sister. She lent me her copy, and I am glad she did: It is a book I enjoyed very much.
The author was born the same year as my sister (1967), just one year before me. In this autobiographic novel, he focuses on his year as an exchange student in the US when he was 17 years old. But he also refers to things that happened in his childhood, and we learn about his life in a small town in northern Germany in the months before and after the exchange year. As he is the same age as my sister and I, a lot of what he describes is familiar; we were children and teenagers at the same time in the same country.
His year in the US brings him into contact with people so different from anyone he ever knew back home; their ways of life are unlike everything he took for granted.
His host family live on the outskirts of a small settlement in Wyoming. The landscape in all its immensity, the climate, the house and garden, the food, the clothes; all different.
School is nothing like school at home, either; subjects such as History and Sports have a completely different approach to what he is used to.
Joachim soon settles in and grows to like his host family a lot, with the exception of their youngest son, who makes it clear from the start that the German guest is not at all welcome.
The young man's adventures during that year range from taming a horse to making friends with a prisoner on Death Row, from visiting the Grand Canyon to having dinner with a family of bodybuilders.
Three months into his exchange year, tragedy strikes back home: one of his brothers dies in a car crash. Joachim travels home to be with his family for the funeral, but finds coping with their collective grief very hard. He decides to go back to Wyoming and complete his year there.
When he finally returns to Germany for good, getting back into his old life is impossible - he has grown and changed, but the small town has not. His family has seemingly come to terms with the loss of Joachim's brother, but the underlying sadness is palpable.
During the year that is the story's focus, the young man learns a lot about life and about himself.
I highly recommend this book, but as far as I know, it has not (yet?) been translated into any other language from German. It is the first in a series of (so far) three, and I am looking forward to reading the next one - it is already on my TBR pile :-)