Archive for the ‘Peirene’ Category

A short review today for a very short but lovely novel.  Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius (translated by Jamie Bulloch) is the beautifully-told story of a devout, pregnant young German woman one January day in 1943 as she walks through Rome enroute from her lodgings to a church concert, her thoughts filled with longing for her husband stationed in North Africa and confusion over the war, entirely adrift in a strange, foreign city, feeling both enchanted and alarmed by her surroundings and her situation.

And yes, the entire novel is told in a single sentence.  This scared me off reading the novel for far too long, even after I’d seen glowing reviews of it from other bloggers.  The grammar may be unconventional in its exclusion of full stops but the liberal use of other punctuation marks and paragraph breaks give the novel excellent flow.  It’s short, less than 120 pages, and it is so compelling, so gorgeously written that I could not put it down once I’d started.

There is no major plot here, no action, just a snapshot of the young woman’s thoughts over several hours, touching on her observations of her surroundings in Rome, her recollections of her time with her husband Gert, her concern that they might not see each other again, and her struggles to reconcile the war and Nazi doctrine with her deeply-held religious beliefs.  It is a quiet and intensely moving story, one I wanted to reread immediately after finishing the last page.  There is almost a dream-like quality to the writing, with the protagonist essentially disconnected from her surroundings as she works through the many worries in her head.

Please, don’t let the unconventional format intimidate you and prevent you from reading this.  It is a gorgeous, lyrical novel that approaches spiritual and emotional conflict in a most engaging manner.  

 Favourite passages:

…she should not allow herself to feel this longing, it was not appropriate for a German soldier’s wife, who ought to be waiting patiently at home, first for the final victory and then for her husband,

but she was not at home, she was in a foreign place, and carrying a child, she had thrown herself into an adventure, left her home and parents and followed her husband, without realizing that God had another plan for her, and nobody could except her to stroll through this place with a happy heart…(p. 85)

…but there was so much to write every day, so much she had to tell him, so many worries of his to dispel, to convey comfort in confident handwriting, hope and trust in God in exemplary German handwriting, and place her love in every sentence, because each letter might be the last…(p. 36)

…and in wartime, life was a very particular sort of trail, God’s most difficult trial, in spite of all the tears your individual plans counted for nothing, the selfish hope of the Roman delights counted for nothing, all human endeavor counted for nothing, for my thoughts are not your thoughts, says the Lord…(p. 41)

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