How Earth Day Looks in Our Neck of the Woods


Friday, November 21, 2014

Young Light by Ralf Rothmann & Julia Franck's West

We abruptly have been submerged into the deep freeze, though it's been colder than normal all November. We are due next week for a very brief warm-up, but it's been super-deep winter around here. I love winter, but my body's muscles go through hell in the transition from warmish fall to frigid temperatures, and hence, my inability to post frequently.

I very much appreciated reading Young Light by the German writer Ralf Rothmann, born in 1953. It's the story of Julian, age 12, whose family resides in the most prominent coal-mining region of West Germany in the 1960s. Rather than a standard novel, the book is more a fascinating, episodic collection of Julian's experiences, in which he plays a constantly ambiguous role between childhood and adolescence. His father is a miner, and is exceedingly uncommunicative with his son. His mother shows no affection for him and literally takes off with his younger sister without a backward glance for most of the summer, so that Julian is left to figure out many puzzling events and feelings for himself. His family is very poor, it seems to me, as evidenced by the constantly empty larder. Julian is very lucky, it seems, when there's a bit of sausage in the house to eat. He is clearly on his own and his father is functioning minimally. Still, there is much to delight in--Rothmann's vividly descriptive scenes bring alive this mining village and its people, unlike any other I've read about before.

The Book Depository was very, very late in sending me my copy of West by Julia Franck. I ordered on October 31st, and I didn't receive it until Tuesday, November 18th, much, much longer than they promised it. I will complain to them about the false advertising.

In any case, I'll admit I was completely shocked by the abhorrent treatment Ms. Senff receives in the first section of the book! In the 1980s the Stasi were that horrific? I'm only confessing my total ignorance here, forgive me, but the Secret Police have nothing on her and they force her to remove all her clothing after an initial interrogation after she attempts to legally leave East Berlin for West Berlin. Surrounded by men, they each fire questions at her while her young children are held in another area. I have read books about this period in East Germany, I've seen films that are set in the 1980s in East Germany, but nothing prepared me for that. Of course, Ms. Senff is Jewish... What the???  

It is my downcast mood, which I suffer from at the darkest times of the year, which makes the reading of this novel all the harder. But it is extraordinarily well done, I think. I just hope I can stay with it!





3 comments:

  1. I hope that by now it has warmed up a bit for you, we've seen some of the horrendous snow you've had on the TV news. I think if I were you I'd be reading something a bit cosier at the moment! Our weather is mild for the time of year and I hope it stays like that.

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    1. Katrina,
      You have read my mind. I've been diving in to cosy books every chance I get. I really enjoyed Anne Perry's A New York Christmas. I was surprised to find out that she has a home in Scotland, though she was not born a Scot.
      I only want to read fun, relatively easy titles, though I've read some challenging books in November. I enjoyed them, too.
      I'm glad you're having mild weather! We're due for snow tomorrow, but the 7 feet of snow did not affect us at all--all of that fell in far western New York, in the Buffalo area. We're glad for that!
      Best to you,
      Judith

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  2. I'm glad you liked Young Light. I've got it as well and hope to read it soon.

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