Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius translated by Jamie Bulloch
This is the third title from Peirene Press who launched this year publishing thought-provoking short novels of contemporary European literature in luxury paperback editions. Read my thoughts about their first two books here.
Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman, appears rather daunting at first glance for the whole novel is written in just one 117 page long sentence, but once you start reading you soon realise that this is only due to the lack of full stops, for there are other punctuation marks, paragraphs and natural breathing spaces – so don’t let that worry you, let me tell you a little about the story instead …
It is January 1943, and a young German woman in Rome is on her way to a Bach concert. The woman is heavily pregnant with her first child, and is missing her husband who is on active service in Africa. She walks through the streets of the Eternal City from her accommodation to the church, a stroll of an hour or so across Rome, and we go with her – in her head.
We see what she sees, we hear what she hears, and we know what she thinks. All her hopes, fears and memories are laid bare for us in that single sentence which contains all her thoughts. Sometimes musing on the buildings she walks past, other times remembering her courtship with Gert, a preacher who has had to become a soldier, feeling her baby stir within her belly, and always wishing to see Gert again soon. She is uneducated and naive, an innocent abroad, in Rome to be with Gert who then got redeployed leaving her stranded amongst a nation so foreign to her. She lives as a guest in an old people’s home run by nuns, she tries to be close to God but is also desperate to be a good German, although she is confused by the Fuhrer who seems to want to replace God. She doesn’t dwell long on things, her thoughts flit here and there, but they do keep returning to her husband, her God and her country, and we gradually build up a complete picture of her life.
Of Peirene’s three books so far I liked No 2, Stone in a Landslidethe best, but No3 is indeed a charming portrait of a young woman in immensely difficult times that flows by and beguiles you. (8.5/10)
This post was republished into its original place in my blog’s timeline from my lost posts archive
Source: Review copy – thank you.
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Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius, trans Jamie Bulloch.