From Publishers Weekly
Gorra, a Smith College English professor, first visited Germany in 1993, when he was invited to give a lecture. He was taken aback at how much he liked the country, and how interesting he found it. "I was startled to find I was enjoying myself, startled because once you get past the idea of Oktoberfest, the words enjoy and Germany dont, for an American, seem to belong together." This unlikely travelogue explores the nuances of Gorras social, cultural and even monetary exchanges. The authors accounts illustrate his hypothesis that our American memory of WWII still informs our relationship with contemporary Germany. In one episode, Gorra finds himself at a customs office, struggling with the language and trying to retrieve a damaged parcel from the U.S. "I was given a knife and asked to open it. Books. And on top, the very first volume that both the customs official and I saw, was Hitlers Willing Executioners.... I felt vaguely embarrassed about it, as if the books appearance at the top of the box had confirmed the German stereotype about the American stereotype of Germans." Gorra is most successful in these moments of surprise and sometimes even shame. Other times, the book feels burdened by references to scores of other writers and philosophers and reads more like an academic text than insightful travel writing.
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*Starred Review* Gorra's introspective, impressionistic account of his travels through Germany is shaped--perhaps even haunted--by figures from the past: historical, literary, personal. His musings on Weimar, for example, are shaded by both Goethe's oak and the nearby woods, Buchenwald, and the way in which their mutual presence mediates the visitor's experience. Lubeck and the Hanseatic north are untangled with the help of, among copious others, Thomas Mann, Walter Benjamin, Italo Calvino, and W. G. Sebald. Few travelogues are as literary, and even fewer as self-conscious about the aspirations and failures of travelogues in general. Yet for all his erudition, Gorra enters the deep waters of German cultural memory a humble, inquisitive novice, weaving personal and literary experiences, always uber-aware of Germany as the foreign, the cultural Other, no stranger to malevolence. Seasoned Germanophiles may well raise their eyebrows, but by journey's end, they will likely also be reminded of what they found so fascinating about Germany in the first place. A captivating, unique work of synthesis, this selection will draw readers back to the library, bibliography in hand. Brendan DriscollCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved