Monday 7 September 2020

Marrow and Bone

Finished September 6
Marrow and Bone by Walter Kempowski, translated by Charlotte Collins

This novel was released in 1992 in German and only recently translated into English. The main character here, Jonathan Fabrizius, is a freelance writer who mostly lives on an allowance sent to him by his uncle who runs a furniture company. Jonathan lives in Hamburg in a room in an apartment. His girlfriend of six years, Ulla Bakkre de Vaera has a part-time job at a museum, a fascination with cruelties enacted and represented in art, and lives in another room in the same apartment. Their landlord is a older widow of a general that they have little interaction with.
Jonathan was born in 1945 as his mother and uncle fled East Prussia ahead of the Russian advance. His mother died as a result of the birth and her body was left in the small town that he was born in, with his uncle taking a young peasant woman who had lost her own child along on their flight to nurse the young baby. Jonathan's father, a Wehrmacht lieutenant had also died in East Prussia, on the Vistula Spit, when a bomb hit him.
As the book opens, it is 1988 and Jonathan receives a letter from a motorcar company offering him a trip to scout out a planned journalist event to launch a new vehicle. Jonathan would be writing the publicity article to draw the journalists to participate. The trip would be in East Prussia. Jonathan has never returned to the land of his birth, but this opportunity intrigues him with the possibility to see it. He would travel with a driver and a PR person from the motorcar company, and work with them to identify places to see and make note of.
As Jonathan decides to do this, he also holds back a bit from Ulla, not sharing with her this information until after he has committed, but there are also things that Ulla is hiding from him, and this is a turning point in their relationship.
Jonathan's experiences in East Prussia, his interactions with local people, the visiting of historic sites from churches to bunkers also lead him to make peace with his personal history of this place and the losses he suffered from the death of his parents.
Jonathan has an active mind, and we see his thoughts throughout as his mind wanders from the matters at hand and into reflection and supposition. I really enjoyed these thoughts and how varied they were and how he looked at his life and the world around him. Visiting a country that had been settled by Germans in the past, changed hands several times, and is now part of Poland is touched with the relatively recent history of the Second World War and the Nazi presence there. This too is a part of how the characters interact with the people as they visit this area.

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