Monday, July 4, 2011

In My Brother's Shadow by Uwe Timm

The German author Uwe Timm was born in 1940. He was a child born 16 years after his brother and 18 years after his sister, and was often called "The Afterthought" by everyone in his family. He has but one or two shadowy war-time memories of his older brother who, like Gunter Grass, was in an elite corps of the Waffen SS. (His father served in the Luftwaffe.) Timm's brother is on the Eastern Front in the Ukraine and Russia from the spring until the fall of 1943, when he is wounded in battle and suffers from the amputation of both his legs. A few weeks after informing his family of his fate, he dies in a field hospital. When his belongings are returned to his parents, a tiny diary is included with brief jottings of his experiences on the Eastern Front.

Yet the central focus of this little book of 147 pages is on Timm's memories and experiences of his father, and, as such, can be considered Vaterliteratur, writings of the second generation about the first generation, or the adult generation who lived during the Nazi regime. Vaterliteratur is actually an entire genre of German literature.

Lost by Hans-Ulrich Treichel can also be considered Vaterliteratur, in which the Nazi-era parents play a prominent role in conflict with the second-generation.

In both books, and in Gunter Grass's Peeling the Onion to a lesser extent, the fathers all cling desperately to the German ideals of duty, obedience, honor, and loyalty, ideals that preceded Nazism, but which fostered the Nazi Party's growth and strength. After "The Collapse," which is how the first generation referred to the Nazi defeat of 1945, the fathers are diminished in their own and in their sons' eyes. Their entire order and ways of viewing the world, has been destroyed and they are now nothing but dust in the rubble of ruins. They cannot provide for their families, they must struggle in an alien world to grasp at anything that might link them to survival, and they are left ultimately to age and die prematurely, years before their time.

In the second generation's sons' eyes, the fathers become nothing. There are filial attachments, yes, but the fathers' deeds and beliefs become abhorrent, are ultimately shunned, and are to be abandoned.


  1. This sounds like a very different experience from my German pen-pal's family. Her father was just angry that they had lost, his Nazi medals were proudly displayed and his children were all terrified of him and his rages.

    I'm the afterthought too!

  2. Katrina,
    It's interesting that he had rages. What are rages among the older generation, but a feeling of impotence against what they have lost?

    My mother was an afterthought as well, which is why my grandfather was born in 1883!

    Best wishes,

  3. Thank you, Ann,
    I enjoyed visiting your blogs today. I hope the summer heat won't keep you from knitting for long. I knit, too, and I do find that humidity and heat keep me many yards away from my wooly projects!


  4. Hello Judith,
    I just came over from Danielle's blog and saw your challenge. Too bad you are doing your challenge now. I'm planning a German Literature Month in November. I find it frustrating that some of the best books have not been translated and reviewing them on an English blog is a bit unfair but I will still do so in November.
    I read Uwe Timm's Die Entdeckung der Currywurst which I think is such a great novel. I also want to read this one. It is sort of shocking to think that the same elements that helped Nazism to succeed were still present after the war.

  5. Caroline,
    I'm so into German contemporary literature that my challenge will still be in place in November. I'll be sure to join you then.

    I also loved Timm's Die Entdeckung der Currywurst, though I did not read it in German. (Invention of Curried Sausage, I believe, is the English title.) I'd like to read more of Timm's work.