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Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Walk, young lady, walk...", January 2, 2012
This review is from: Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman (Paperback)
The doctor's sound advice to the heavily pregnant young woman, "walk if you like, the child will enjoy it too...", provides Friedrich Christian Delius, renowned German author and 2011 recipient of the most prestigious German language literary award, the Georg-Büchner-Preis, with a unique opening and an overall frame for his novella, "Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman". The book is unusual in several ways, both in content and in structure. I felt immediately drawn into the story, for personal as well as literary reasons. Seen as a whole, the Portrait is an imagined, affectionately written self-portrait of the mother, using the literary device of inner monologue to enable the reader to follow the young woman's observations, emotions and intimate reflections as she takes an hour's walk on a sunny winter afternoon in a foreign city. The city is Rome, the time is January 1943...

Delius creates a delicate portrait of one specific young woman, describing her sense of happiness for being in a "beautiful refuge", mixed in with her worries about being left alone after her husband is suddenly called to the North African front. While we are easily captivated by this one person's musings, wonderment and self-questioning, we become soon aware that the author uses her story to bring out emotions and reflections that may well have been common or even typical for young German women during those war years, wherever they happened to be. He casts a focused light on one facet of German society at the time that has rarely, if at all, been treated in literary form. Many young women of our mothers' generation - Delius is my senior by only a couple of years - , unless they were victims or actively involved in political or war actions, made every effort to maintain that naÔve innocence and isolation from concrete events in Germany and in the wider theatre of war at the Eastern front. They preferred to concentrate on their young children, their family and their husbands away, yet emotionally close. As much as possible, they tended to overlook what was easy to see: arrests, deportations, brutality and violence. They referred to their fathers, husbands, brothers, expected them to protect them and filter out any unpleasant news item. "It was better not to know too much" is the young woman's concern and it was that of many of her generation. She shrugs away any bad news that she cannot avoid noticing and consoles herself that "the good news were found anyway only in personal letters..."

Written in elegant and subtle rhythmic prose, the novella is unusually structured into very short paragraphs, each ending with a comma and with no full stop until the end of the book, that is the complete text is in fact one sentence. This text arrangement emulates the young woman's slow and careful walk from her residence to a Protestant church where an afternoon choral concert is scheduled, it also suggests the linked moments of walk and pause, moments to take in the view around her or of reflection about family and events far away. Finally, Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman is also a beautiful and touching multi-dimensional love story: that of the young woman and her husband; that of the author for his own mother who in whatever creative and fictionalized way was certainly the model, and, last but not least, the love for the city of Rome, its rich and beautiful architecture, its place in history and its special atmosphere and surroundings. [Friederike Knabe]
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 2, 2012 12:49:54 PM PST
As I wrote you directly, Friederike, I think this is a superb review, both capturing the essence of the book that Delius wrote and illuminating it very meaningfully through your own context. Roger.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 2, 2012 12:57:45 PM PST
Thank you, Roger. I did connect with this story and the way it is written from the beginning, as I told you. It feels great when that happens. Friederike

Posted on Jan 2, 2012 8:27:01 PM PST
I'm intrigued, Friederike, this sounds wonderful. I'll see if I can locate a copy. I agree with Roger: your review is superb. Jenny

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 2, 2012 8:35:42 PM PST
For some reason, the English version (a very good one) is only available on Kindle right now. Roger.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 2, 2012 8:48:06 PM PST
Roger, thank you for your advice. Jenny

Posted on Jan 2, 2012 10:37:28 PM PST
This is a great review. One of the best I've read. Clearly the book has meaning poignancy and style. I'm very happy to read it in 2012. Thanks for highlighting Friederike and great new picture!

Posted on Jan 2, 2012 11:26:59 PM PST
H. Schneider says:
I was very surprised when Delius got the Buechner prize. I had not seen him as an 'artist', and hence somewhat beneath the Buechner scope. Maybe I was wrong. You certainly motivate me to give him a chance.
H

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2012 3:49:56 AM PST
H - I didn't know anything about Delius prior to the Prize announcement and recommendation for his latest novel "Die Frau fuer den ich den Komputer erfand". I am not sure I would be interested in all of his writing, still this and the most recent deserve a look. Friederike

Posted on Jan 3, 2012 8:43:33 AM PST
Friederike, I wholeheartedly agree with Roger. I am not familiar with Delius or this book, but thanks to your wonderfully insightful review, I am primed to check into it. Great job--once again!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 4, 2012 4:20:05 AM PST
Thanks Jill,
you should check it out, no doubt about that. While distant from the political action and violence, the realities of the time are ever present nonetheless. Friederike
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