Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman Paperback
Rome, one January afternoon in 1943. A young German woman is on her way to listen to a Bach concert at the Lutheran church.
Innocent and naive, the war is for her little more than a daydream, until she realizes that her husband might never return.
This is a mesmerizing psychological portrait of the human need to safeguard innocence and integrity at any cost - even at the risk of excluding reality. ------- Why Peirene choose to publish this book: 'I was simply enthralled by the structure of this narrative; a single 117-page long sentence with a beautifully clear rhythm.
At the same time it's a compelling and credible description of a "typical" young German woman during the Nazi era.
If we can relate to her we come close to understanding the forces that were shaping an entire generation.' Meike Ziervogel, Publisher
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 115 pages
- Publisher: Peirene Press Ltd
- Publication Date: 01/09/2010
- Category: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
- ISBN: 9780956284006
Showing 1 - 4 of 4 reviews.
Review by teresa1953
This enthralling story centres around a single afternoon in January 1943.A heavily pregnant young woman is in the "eternal city" of Rome. We learn that she is German and is residing in the capital because her husband has returned from the war due to a leg injury. Cruelly, they have been only been together for a couple of days, when Gert is recalled to serve in Africa, following Germany's defeat at El Alamein.The young woman is on her way to the Lutheran church to attend a Bach concert. Her bewilderment and sadness is palpable, as she tries to make sense of her situation and the strangeness of Germany's presence in their ally's country. It seems like an "occupation" rather than an invitation from willing hosts. There is a "protocol" which this young woman fails to grasp. Even the unfamiliar statues and artwork confuse her, and she longs for her husband's knowledge and company. Her whole life has been influenced by the Protestant Church, reinforced by her husband's calling as a minister. This also sits uncomfortably within the very centre of the Catholic church in Rome. What persists throughout the narrative, unusual and compelling in it's single 117 page sentence,is her innocence,her utter belief that God will prevail and a sense that if she chooses not to confront her fears.......they will never come to be. I found this deeply moving. Her whole being is concerned with the baby she is carrying and the hope that child will bring. As the music of the concert swells and unites Germans and Italians, Protestants and Catholics alike and her tears flow freely.....yes there has to be hope......for what is left in this confusing and damaged world?Another little masterpice from Peirene.
Review by writestuff
Review by AndrewBlackman
A novel in a single sentence. That was what intrigued me about this book. To be honest I generally avoid World War Two books - not because I don't think it's important, but just because I feel as if I have already overdosed on books, films, TV programmes etc etc exploring every angle of the war, and I'd need a really good reason to read about that again, rather than any of the infinite number of other places and times. The innovative narrative structure gave me that reason.It turns out, however, that it's not really a single sentence. I mean, it's true that there are no full-stops, but the sentence doesn't really run on continuously for the whole book. In some places it does, but in many others the sentence basically ends, and the author goes on to a new thought in a new paragraph, just using a comma instead of a full-stop. For example, from a page opened at random: "...this sort of thing happened more often in Catholic countries, he had written, but she had been right to get off the bus straight away, since that incident she had kept as far away from crowds as possible...."The phrase "Since that incident" should really be a new sentence - it's a new thought, and there's a grammatical break between it and what went before. The whole one-sentence thing quite quickly began to feel like a bit of a cheat.But as I read the book more, the style grew on me. I began to think about why he had written it in this way, and realised it's not just a gimmick - it's a clever reflection of the way we think. The whole book is an interior monologue of a woman walking to church one day in 1943, and her thoughts meander around between present and past with a mesmerising fluidity. And this, really, is how we think when we're just walking along letting our thoughts wander. I went for a long walk on Hampstead Heath recently and did exactly the same thing. There was no break between the thoughts, no division between one thing and the next. Past, present and future all merged in my head, and I went from one thing to the next without a break or logical transition.By the end of the book I was convinced that writing in a single sentence was an effective way of communicating this fluidity of thought processes. It's true that it's not technically a single sentence, but I suppose the only way to write for 125 pages in a single sentence would be to clutter up the book with a whole lot of ugly conjunctions. Maybe just having a comma and moving on to the next thing was the best way to do it.The character interested me as well. She is very young, very innocent, very trusting, quite careful to avoid thinking about things she doesn't understand or want to think about, quite happy to trust in God or her husband or some other authority to work things out for her. She is wary of her friend Ilse, who raises uncomfortable questions such as why it was necessary to hate the British and Americans - just the question itself makes her feel "guilty, confused and horrified" and she decides to distance herself from Ilse or "at the very least stop getting into discussions with her". Another revealing passage, after saying she needed to discuss "her Jewish thoughts" with Gert: "On her own she could not work out what you were allowed and not allowed to say, what you should think and what you ought not to think, and how to cope with her ambivalent feelings, all she could do was to keep these things to herself until his return"There is a clear link between her religion and subservience - for her, religion is about faith to the point of fatalism, accepting God's will and not questioning anything, the effort "to bring your own will into harmony with the will of God, and thereby find the greatest freedom in obedience".It's clear to see how this young woman, clearly a good person with a kind heart, would fall perfectly into line with the crimes of the Nazi government. By doing good she would be complicit in evil. It's a very compelling characterisation. This is the third book published by Peirene Press, and all three have been of a very high standard. Personally I'd recommend Beside the Sea as my favourite, but this book is also well worth a read.
Review by wandering_star
In Portrait Of The Mother, a young pregnant woman walks through Rome, on her way to a concert in a church. She is German, and it's January 1943. She is waiting in Rome for her husband to return from duty on the African front, and as she walks through the city her thoughts circle around in the way that they do when one is walking - new thoughts are sparked by the things you see or by memories linked to the place you're in, and old preoccupations return. The whole book is told in one long sentence, but with paragraph breaks, so it felt almost that I was reading at walking pace, with one paragraph per breath.She's quite a naive young woman, self-conscious about the fact that she doesn't really understand anything about Italy, its history or culture, and wary of the Catholic/Mediterranean goings-on - as a result, she lives in a little bit of a bubble. Steeped in both her strong religious faith and all the wartime propaganda, she tries not to think about difficult things like food shortages, her possibly traitorous thoughts about wanting her husband to be with her, or indeed the hints that she's heard from both her father and husband that they don't truly support the Fuhrer. Instead she seeks out places which remind her of her husband or her faith, "little islands of reassurance" in "the dangerous sea of the hospitable and harsh, beautiful and uncanny city".Despite her naivety, somehow she becomes a sympathetic character as we spend the morning with her. And the impact of the war is very well conveyed in small details - the espresso bar, tightly shuttered since coffee became unavailable except for those with connections; "the daily death announcements Fallen in action, which were printed ever smaller". The climax of the book - the concert - is an incredibly beautiful summation of all the emotions that have built up to this point.<i>and once again, before she continued on her way, she looked to the left of the twin churches into Via del Babuino, down which she had already walked four times this week, Monday and Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, the street of letters and packages, the street of the signs of life she hoped for, the street of happiness, from where she had returned yesterday with two letters from Gert, received at the Wehrmacht headquarters, full of gratitude after a first glance at his lines and the silent, short prayer: He's alive! Thank you, O benevolent God!, and this is why, of the three streets which ran radially between the domed churches towards the obelisk, she knew Babuino best of all, her street of happiness and gratitude,</i>