Well, i finished it some time ago. (in februrary, and I forgot to post this, I am so sorry)
I loved the build up at the beginning - how Raif is now and what a mystery he is for the people around him - and I forgot many times during the rest of the book how he turned out to be. It's a really sad story. Between the characters' character, family duties and the lack of communication at the time, this was destined to fail.
Regarding the gender switch thing, I had heard the interview I posted and read the articles and was ready to find a very odd couple. And while I read I felt, “this is just a shy guy”. If no one had put his judgments in a verbal form - his father, Maria herself - Raif would pass (today at least, but maybe then too) as an introvert, an insecure man. A depressive, self-loathing one too. Actually, I have read many books written in the first person and this may be the first time where that I find that the whole story is soooo written from the characters head. Other first-person narrators present the actions as things that happen outside them - I went to the coffee, I like this and that- but still, even first-person narrators protect themselves, they only show one version of things. Raif does the contrary, he doesn't spare us from all the mind tricks and doubts and crazy trains of thought that he (and I guess we all) have. Maria says anything and his mind just can't stop being paranoid and doubtful and go back and forth between what is happening before his eyes and what he thinks is the real explanation for it. Even when they are talking (not only when he thinks), he does things like that, "I told her everything, and since I wanted to be totally fair I ended telling her also bad things, and at the end I disbalanced the picture". He is not protecting himself -it's a diary after all but I guess even in diaries people put the bright side of things. It's beautiful and it's extremely realistic, and Maria's character certainly doesn't help to dissipate any doubts... but Raif is what he is, a self-doubting man who admits he does not know what to do a hundred times. What is feminine about it? having doubts or admitting them? "Men" (in a generic capitalized form that does not include Raif) don't have doubts, they absolutely don't acknowledge them. I could go on and on and I am missing a very important point: the fact that he's a stranger in Berlin does not facilitate things.
The same goes for her. Her so-called masculine features are being open and forward about things, and wanting to turn upside down the power relationships that she has encountered all her life. I appreciated the exercise to make them "odd" but here I think the author had a lot of problems disentangling the independent woman and the evil one. I had more problems with her, because she put obstacles by generalizing her point of view to a man like Raif and this eventually led to more drama than Raif’s attitude. After trauma and in harsh environments we can lose the ability to actually see the "good" men and women out there, and she definitely did not give Raif the chance to prove himself. She could let him love her, it was so easy, but some people like to shut the door and suffer. But I've seen that in real life.
Anyway, I liked it! ?