Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius, Jamie Bulloch (Translator)

bookshelves: paper-read, shortstory-shortstories-novellas, translation, women, war, wwii, under-500-ratings, spring-2014, next, bettie-s-law-of-excitement-lost, published-2006, yawn

Read from April 29 to May 18, 2014


grrrrramazon description (which seems to be a personal review):

So the good news first: It’s got the usual suspects – Rome, the war, the Germans. Now to the slightly trickier aspect: there is just one, 105-page-long sentence with a single full stop after the final word. I have been advised “Don’t mention the sentence”. But this is no twisted, unreadable Germanic syntax a la Thomas Mann. Far from it: Instead it’s a mesmerizing psychological portrait of the human need to safeguard innocence and integrity at any cost – even at the risk of excluding reality.

Usually the plot line of a single sentence is quickly told. And this is no exception. It describes a walk through Rome one January afternoon in 1943. A pregnant young German woman is on her way to listen to a Bach concert at the Lutheran church. Innocent and naïve, the war is for her little more than a day-dream, until she realizes that her husband might never return.

Will she change her attitude? Her refusal to understand the obvious turns this slim book into a page-turning thriller. No really. The author’s stroke of genius is to present the young woman as credibly normal. She commits no crime, she just walks along having thoughts and some doubts too. We understand her. We engage. And we follow her because we all want to know if she finally admits reality of her situation. Or at least Peirene did.

However, it’s not for the page turning that I chose this book. After all there are many spell-binders out there. But it is plain and simply for “the sentence”. Its rhythm mirrors so beautifully the steps of a walk – you can almost feel the paving stones beneath your feet. At the same time the text is astonishingly clearly structured. It drives towards an end just as the young woman heads for her concert. Neither lose their direction. The book enchants like a Bach cantata and so enthralls us with the rhythm of the words and the beauty of Rome that we too are tempted to forget the reality of war.

Translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch.

Dedication: For U.B.

Opening: Walk, young lady, walk if you want to walk, the child will like it if you walk, Doctor Roberto had said in his funny German with a strong Italian accent

Came to this story for no other reason that it is part of the delicious Peirene Press series ‘books to red in two hours or less’. However this entry did not strike me as at all palatable.

3.5* Next World Novella
4* The Brothers
WL Sea of Ink
1* Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman
4* The Murder of Halland

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