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Category Archive for 'Germany'

In his third book, the first to be published in English, German author Christopher Kloeble creates a thematically complex novel in which he examines the most crucial aspects of everyday life for several families over several generations as they try to figure out who they are and what their roles are within their own family histories and in the histories of others close to them. Though most thoughtful people reflect on their parents and siblings and their own roles within their families as part of their growing-up process, the relationships in this novel are not as clear-cut as they are in most readers’ lives. Even the question of who is your father or who is your mother does not inspire an automatic answer for some of the characters here. As Kloeble examines three generations of characters in two story lines, from the aftermath of World War I to the present, the exact nature of their connections is often hidden, not only from the reader but also from the characters themselves. During this novel, the author explores some of mankind’s most important themes in unique ways. Who are we as individuals (a question raised by Albert and sometimes Fred) exists alongside questions about who we are within our families and what is the role of love in our lives. What obligations, if any, do we have toward a new generation, and to what information is that new generation entitled by their elders? How, if at all, is the present a direct outgrowth of the past? As Albert begins to grow up and feel the stirrings of love and sex, he also experiences three serious loves, another complex theme well developed through the action, in addition to more platonic loves which teach him about humanity.

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In this marvelous combination of photographic portraits by famed German artist August Sander (1976 – 1974) and modern poems by American poet Adam Kirsch, which accompany them, Kirsch introduces readers to new worlds. Explaining the difference between “snapshots,” which record moments in time and bring back memories for the viewer, portraits like Sander’s, in which the subjects have no names and are identified only by “class, occupation, gender, [and] family role are independent of time and appear to posterity as types. Kirsch’s poems give imagined identities to these subjects, bringing them to life in new ways and connecting them directly with times and places at the same time that they maintain a universality that goes beyond the individual. Forty-six poems, all illustrated, provide a broad look at Germany’s people between 1910 and 1950.

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In a novel which ranges widely over almost three centuries of Russian history, author Andrei Makine, a Russian émigré who has lived in France since 1987, recreates the life of a young Russian author/filmmaker who finds that the concept of creativity in the world in which he lives must always bend to the will of someone else – the censors, a hired director, or the tastes of the public – if his work is to survive. In this metafictional novel Makine presents Oleg Erdmann as his author/main character, a man whose parents were originally from Germany. Oleg was born in Russia, but his father was unable to cope with the difficulties he faced as the head of an immigrant family in a country which did not admit him into its mainstream, and he spent most of his spare time escaping his personal problems by painstakingly creating a detailed model of a giant castle, elaborate and reminiscent of the castles from the eras of Peter the Great and his successors Whenever serious problems would arise in his daily life, his father would say, softly, “This is all happening to me because of that little German girl who became Catherine the Great.” Determined to write a screenplay about Catherine the Great years later, Oleg goes way beyond the limits of the usual biography, questioning not only Catherine’s life and her decisions but also the very nature of love and how one achieves it, using Catherine’s lengthy affairs with over a dozen men to expand the scope of his screenplay into a discussion of life, love, and art.

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Published in Germany in 1932, when author Irmgard Keun was only twenty-two, The Artificial Silk Girl, a bestselling novel of its day, is said to be for pre-Nazi Germany what Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925) is for Jazz Age America. Both novels capture the frantic spirit, the eat-drink-and-be-merry ambiance, and the materialism of young people like Doris – and Lorelei Lee in the Loos book – who haunt the urban clubs as they try to work their way into a lifestyle much grander and more vibrant than anything their mothers could ever have hoped for. Doris, the “artificial silk girl,” has no politics, focusing almost completely on her own ambitions – finding wealthy men who will improve her life by financing a better lifestyle for her. She cadges a desired wristwatch from one potential suitor, extols the virtues of chocolates and fine clothing to others (and is sometimes rewarded), but fastens her clothing with rusty safety pins in case someone too unattractive gets too carried away. By the age of seventeen, she has already had a year-long affair with Hubert, her first and most lasting love, but when he ignores her birthday after she’s saved up for a new dress, and fails to produce a present, she retaliates. The authorities in Germany were not pleased with Keun’s published depiction of Berlin life as Hitler and the Nazis, preparing to take power, envisioned it. Within a year, Keun’s books were confiscated and all known copies were destroyed. Though she continued writing after World War II, it is this novel, rediscovered and republished in 1979, for which she is best known. Fun and funny and very important for its depiction of women in pre-Nazi society.

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At last, a novel recently discovered in Germany and written in 1932, at the end of the Weimar Republic, presents a picture of Berlin as it really was, not as it appears in the sterilized portraits released by Hitler’s army and staff beginning a year later, when Hitler officially came to power. Like many other cities recovering from a Depression, Berlin did have its seamy underside, along with the poor, the homeless, the street gangs, and the petty criminals dependent on pickpocketing and small thefts in order to eat. Poor women, of course, had their own resources, with prostitution and the bar scene playing a big role in their lives. Whole sections of the city were occupied at night by the wandering homeless, including young teens. The best that many of them could hope for, as they looked for a place to keep warm, seemed to be the temporary hostels, filled with smoke and the stench of unwashed bodies, where they could stay, and perhaps get some sleep, during brutally cold days. Ernst Haffner, the journalist who wrote this novel, uses a collection of individualized vignettes, connected by the overriding story of two of the young men, Ludwig and Willi, to show Berlin as it really was. Little is known about Haffner. At the time of the book’s publication IN 1932, it attracted considerable notice in Germany for its honesty and its insights, and it was well reviewed in German newspapers, but it was outlawed by Hitler the following year, and virtually every copy was burned in the Nazi book-burnings. Haffner, according to the records, was summoned by the culture ministry of the Third Reich in 1938, after which he disappeared, with no record of his residence anywhere in Germany after that.

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