Built on Sand
Paul Scraton

“With a psychogeographer’s sensibility and a deep connection to history, Paul Scraton’s Built on Sand offers us a tender, fresh, and moving portrait of Berlin.”
— Saskia Vogel, author of Permission

“Sublime… Scraton has taken the broken memories of a city, refashioning them into a novel that’s skewed and wondrous.”
— Irenosen Okojie, author of Speak Gigantular

‘Humane and ambitious.’
— Amy Liptrot, author of The Outrun

“Cities are made of stories, and Paul Scraton’s novel-in-stories is wonderfully made of the city of Berlin.”
— Lauren Elkin, author of Flâneuse

"A haunted and haunting novel about the way the past is sometimes more real than the present."
– Owen Booth, author of What We’re Teaching Our Sons

“A stereoscopic vision of Berlin and the lives lived in its sunken streets, masterful in its attention to topographic history.”
– Jessica J. Lee, author of Turning: Lessons from Swimming Berlin's Lakes

“Paul Scraton is a compelling cartographer of the personal, tenderly mapping Berlin’s contoured and haunting histories onto the city’s present surface in a way that is deeply moving. In this striking and episodic novel he gives shape to the intricacies so often overlooked when a place is regarded as much a symbol as a living thing.”
– Julian Hoffman, author of Irreplaceable

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Built on Sand by Paul Scraton

Berlin: long-celebrated as a city of artists and outcasts, but also a city of teachers and construction workers. A place of tourists and refugees, and the memories of those exiled and expelled. A city named after marshland; if you dig a hole, you’ll soon hit sand.

The stories of Berlin are the stories BUILT ON SAND. A wooden town, laid waste by the Thirty Years War that became the metropolis by the Spree that spread out and swallowed villages whole. The city of Rosa Luxemburg and Joseph Roth, of student movements and punks on both sides of the Wall. A place still bearing the scars of National Socialism and the divided city that emerged from the wreckage of war.

BUILT ON SAND centres on the personal geographies of place, and how memory and history live on in the individual and collective imagination. Stories of landscapes and a city both real and imagined; stories of exile and trauma, mythology and folklore; of how the past shapes and distorts our understanding of the present in an age of individualism, gentrification and the rising threat of nativism and far-right populism.

Together, these stories offer a portrait of a city three decades on from the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the legacy of that history in a city that was once divided but remains fractured and fragmented.


Praise for Built on Sand

“With a psychogeographer's sensibility and a deep connection to history, Paul Scraton's Built on Sand offers us a tender, fresh, and moving portrait of Berlin that takes shape through the stories of interlinked lives and gets to the very heart of the city, its dreamers and ghosts and the currents that have given this place its magnetic pull. Scraton helps us understand what it means to live in a metropolis, the pleasures and losses inherent to city life: regulars at the local bar, those who come and go, buildings that are no longer what they once were, and how we find new ways to make a city ours again through each new wave of change. Built in Sand helps us make sense not only of Berlin, but of who we are and how we are connected in this world.”
– Saskia Vogel, author of Permission

“After Ghosts on the Shore, his brilliantly evocative meditation on Germany’s Baltic coast, Paul Scraton returns with an equally enthralling novel. Set in Berlin and its wider hinterland of forests and lakes, Built on Sand beautifully blends the domestic with the political, the local with the expansive, the quotidian with the revelatory. Its multi-layered narrative is hinged to a city that you feel like you already know, made strangely familiar by a resonant archive of imagery: grainy footage of Hitler’s passing motorcade; the collapsed crown of the Reichstag; the enduring snapshots of the toppling Wall. Even Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ lets us imagine we’re intimate with the city. But the Berlin inhabited by Scraton’s characters – as dynamic, invigorating and conflicted as those first heady days of a reunified Germany – is built on an ancient marsh and a foundation of sand. And it is this lack of underlying solidity that lends the elegant strands of his book their essence; whether the secrets of a retired Stasi agent in a darkened bar or the youthful idealism of a protestor on the streets, the stories criss-cross and coalesce on a constantly shifting and unstable terrain. Paul Scraton is a compelling cartographer of the personal, tenderly mapping Berlin’s contoured and haunting histories onto the city’s present surface in a way that is deeply moving. In this striking and episodic novel he gives shape to the intricacies so often overlooked when a place is regarded as much a symbol as a living thing.”
– Julian Hoffman, author of Irreplaceable and The Small Heart of Things

‘Humane and ambitious.’
— Amy Liptrot, author of The Outrun

“Sublime. Cleverly shifts from personal odyssey to shared legacies. Scraton has taken the broken memories of a city, refashioning them into a novel that's skewed and wondrous.”
– Irenosen Okojie, author of Speak Gigantular

“Cities are made of stories, and Paul Scraton's novel-in-stories is wonderfully made of the city of Berlin. Maps and memories, traces and photographs, fallen walls and still-standing relics, memorials you fail to notice, sights you've seen in all kinds of weather, everyday people and the histories that weigh on them: these are the building blocks of this poignant, empathic, and haunting book. Reading it felt like peeling back a layer of skin from Berlin's concrete surface.”
– Lauren Elkin, author of Flâneuse

“A gentle firecracker of a novel.”
– Clare Fisher, author of How the Lights Gets In

“Built on Sand is a gentle portrait of a city shaped by a tide of constant change. It is a story built from fragments, together forming a stereoscopic vision of Berlin and the lives lived in its sunken streets, masterful in its attention to topographic history. Scraton is a subtle observer of the small ways loss and shared solitude can bind us in the present, as the past and future risk pulling us apart.”
– Jessica J. Lee, author of Turning: Lessons from Swimming Berlin's Lakes

"A haunted and haunting novel about the way the past is sometimes more real than the present... Paul Scraton writes with an incredible sense of how place defines who we are."
– Owen Booth, author of What We’re Teaching Our Sons

“Paul Scraton will show you a version of Berlin you haven’t seen before: a retired Stasi agent sitting in a neighbourhood pub that won’t survive gentrification, a mapmaker drawing and redrawing streets to show how they are perceived by the different people walking them, and phantoms haunting cabins in Brandenburg villages beyond the city limits. Scraton, whose relationship with Berlin is almost familial, has charted the city’s changing identity and does not look away from its brutal history. Built on Sand is an intoxicating celebration of a place he has known and loved for a long time.”
– Linda Mannheim, author of Above Sugar Hill

“A rich and thoughtful book. Anyone who has ever strayed off well-trodden streets in search of a city’s darker cultural and historical ghosts will recognise the pleasures and melancholy beautifully and meticulously rendered here.”
– Adam Scovell, author of Mothlight

“A story about other stories, where people chase ghosts, where steps lead to nothing… a short, compelling novel that captures the mood of 21st-century modernity.”
Subscript

“A compelling, humane and intelligent portrayal of a city.”
Never Imitate

“It felt as though I was on holiday in Berlin, listening to Paul Scraton’s narrator in his local bar telling me tales of this city reclaimed from swampland.”
What I Think When I Think About Reading

‘The detail in the stories does not read like research but knowledge accumulated over a lifetime.’
Nothing in the Rulebook


Further Reading

Write Place, Write Time: Paul Scraton
– SAND Journal

Creatives in Profile: Paul Scraton
– Nothing in the Rulebook

Against Forgetting
– BLA


About the Author

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Paul Scraton is a writer and editor based in Berlin. Born in Lancashire, he moved to the German capital in 2001 where he has lived ever since. He is the editor-in-chief of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place and the author of Ghosts on the Shore: Travels Along Germany's Baltic Coast (Influx Press, 2017). His essays on place and memory have been published as the pocket book The Idea of a River: Walking out of Berlin by Readux Books in March 2015, and in Mauerweg: Stories from the Berlin Wall Trail, published by Slow Travel Berlin in 2014 to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Among other publications, you can find more of Paul’s writing on place on Caught by the River and in hidden europe magazine.
T: @underagreysky W: underagreysky.com


Paperback ISBN: 9781910312339

Ebook ISBN: 9781910312346

Publication date: April 2019

Formats: Paperback / eBook