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Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman Paperback – September 1, 2010
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"The book's last paragraph, overtly expressing nothing more than the young woman's intention to write a letter, is one of the most moving conclusions I've ever read." Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian "For, ultimately, it is what we know about the tragedy of World War II, and what Margherita does not, or will not ... that gives this miniature its power." Chris Waywell, Time Out "Jamie Bulloch's excellent translation keeps the supple and rhythmic flow of Delius's language. This is a small masterpiece." Helmut Schmitz, TLS "Delius understands the forces that shape Germany and has the gift to articulate joy, beauty and love." Rosie Goldsmith, The Independent "Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman is a beautifully crafted work of superb psychological intensity and proof, if it was needed, of the potency of the written word." Pam Norfolk, Lancashire Evening Post
About the Author
Friedrich Christian Delius is one of the most critically acclaimed contemporary German writers. He was born in 1943 and lives in Berlin and Rome. His first poetry collection appeared in 1965. Since then he has published fourteen novels, five poetry collections and has recently written the libretto for the opera Prospero by Luca Lombardi. His books have been translated into seventeen languages. Jamie Bulloch has been working as a professional translator from German since 2001. His most recent works include The Sweetness of life by Paulus Hochgatter for Quercus and Ruth Meier's Diary for Harvill/Secker.
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Top Customer Reviews
Margaret is only 21. Her adolescent years have been completely dominated by the politics of Nazi Germany including what must have been a near mandatory participation in the League of German Girls for 4 years. What she knows is limited, edited and highly stylized by those around her. The result is a woman culturally isolated in a foreign country. Despite what must have been intense indoctrination and continuing propaganda she sees the contradictions of life everywhere. The use of god by politicians and the military compared to the church brings much tension to Margaret. It's a dangerous world where not much is considered and less is said and yet she can see that things are not right. Margaret is deeply religious: Protestant and perhaps much more so to bury the images of war and suffering.
Was focusing on religion and family a means to look away from the Nazi war machine for Margaret or others? It's seems highly plausible. Certainly a novel of a young expectant German mother is original and gives some alternative perspective to currently held views on what the average person's role or complicity may have been at that time. It's worthwhile but is equally restrained in not trying to create unnecessary generalizations. Taken as one person's story I think it's quite good.
Delius leaves the reader to consider things. The author slyly mentions the 'silent Pope' as Margaret walks by St. Peter's. Is is reference to criticism towards the catholic church for not doing enough to protect all peoples? Could be. The imagery is quite strong considering the spare language and short length of the book.
"Walk, young lady, walk if you want to walk, the child will like it if you walk," so speaks the Italian doctor to the title character, a young German woman in Rome, eight months pregnant. And walk she does, by a route that is easy to follow today, from the Waldensian hostel in the Trastevere, over the Ponte Margherita (the Italian version of her own name, Margaret), through the Piazza del Popolo, ascending the Pincio to take in its view towards St. Peter's, then along towards Santa Trinità dei Monti via the Spanish Steps, ending at the Lutheran Church on the Via Sicilia, where she attends a concert of Bach and Haydn. It is a practical walk, threading the arch-Catholic city from one outpost of German Protestantism to another.
It is also a very beautiful one, but the mother-to-be notices very little. She is not well educated, speaks no Italian, and feels isolated in a culture that she barely trusts. Besides, she is waiting for her husband to return to show her around properly. For the year is 1943, and he, though wounded on the Russian front, has unexpectedly been recalled to service following the German defeat at El Alamein, only one day after his pregnant wife had travelled to Rome to be with him.
The use of Rome as a mirror to reflect the mid-century German psyche reminds me of Wolgang Koeppen's powerful DEATH IN ROME, set in the immediately postwar years. But Delius writes at the turning-point of the war itself. He is also the more understated writer, confining himself to the thoughts of this modest young woman during her hour-long walk. At first she seems simple and unquestioning, content to leave difficult decisions to her betters. But as time passes, and she worries if she will ever see her husband again, she begins to question the discrepancies between the attitudes indoctrinated in her by the League of German Girls and the Christian beliefs of her husband and father. The concert in the church provides a magnificent climax, as her prayers interleave with the text of Bach's great Cantata 56 ("Ach, wie flüchtig"), about the brevity of human life.
Without ever spelling anything out, Delius gives an excellent sense of how the German people could have fallen under the spell of the Führer, but also have found the spiritual strength to recover their moral center afterwards. I have never seen the two phases summarized so compactly in such a short span, and with barely a mention of the horrors that have become so familiar. Instead he conveys volumes indirectly; even the mere mention of buildings in Germany such as the Wartburg Castle or the Minster in Bad Doberan (look them up) implies moral values that will outlast mere regimes.
And Delius himself? One fact: he was born in 1943... in Rome.