Saturday, 20 November 2010

Zweig, Stefanie "Nowhere in Africa" and "Somewhere in Germany"


Zweig, Stefanie "Nowhere in Africa" (German: Nirgendwo in Afrika) - 1995

Another one of my favourite books ever.

We are writing the year 1938 and attorney Walter Redlich manages to flee Nazi Germany in the last minute. They move to Kenya where he is hired as the manager of a farm. They are all experiencing this new country differently, Walter struggles with the different kind of work that is expected of him, Jettel misses the luxuries of her former life, both have more than a few difficulties with the culture and the language, let alone with the bad news they receive from Germany. Only Regina, 9 years old, embraces the life on the new continent, learns the languages, finds friends and cannot imagine another life. When her little brother Max is born in 1946, the family is complete.

This is an almost-autobiography of author Stefanie Zweig. She is a wonderful author who has written a lot about the continent where she left her heart: Africa. There is a sequel to this book which is called "Somewhere in Germany".

It has taken long enough to translate this book into English, twelve years to be precise. In 2001, it was made into a movie and that movie received an Oscar for best foreign movie. The film is very good but, as usual, doesn't give the book any credit.

Anyway, Stefanie Zweig is one of my favourite authors. She writes equally well about Jewish issues as well as about Africa since she spent an important time of her childhood there. She still lives in Frankfurt, though.

We discussed this in our book club in April 2008.

From the back cover: "Nowhere in Africa is the extraordinary tale of a Jewish family who flees the Nazi regime in 1938 for a remote farm in Kenya. Abandoning their once-comfortable existence in Germany, Walter Redlich, his wife Jettel, and their five-year-old daughter, Regina, each deal with the harsh realities of their new life in different ways. Attorney Walter is resigned to working the farm as a caretaker; pampered Jettel resists adjustment at every turn; while the shy yet curious Regina immediately embraces the country - learning the local language and customs, and finding a friend in Owuor, the farm's cook. As the war rages on the other side of the world, the family’s relationships with their strange environment become increasingly complicated as Jettel grows more self-assured and Walter more haunted by the life they left behind. In 1946, with the war over, Regina's fondest dream comes true when her brother Max is born. Walter's decision, however, to return to his homeland to help rebuild a new Germany puts his family into turmoil again."

I have read the book again in the meantime and discussed it with another book club. Find my discussion questions here.

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Zweig, Stefanie "Somewhere in Germany" (German: Irgendwo in Deutschland) - 1996

As we all know, the war ends at some point and so the Redlich family returns back to Germany into bombed-out Frankfurt. This seems as hard as the move to Kenya. The post-war country is struggling, and so are the Redlichs. There is still anti-Semitism and hunger is ever present, they lost their whole family, they have to adjust to life in Europe again, for the children a completely unknown world. Regina grows up and starts working as a journalist. Life circumstances get better.

Another great description of life in different circumstances. This is the sequel to "Nowhere in Africa". Read the other one first and then come and discuss this with me.

From the back cover: "Somewhere in Germany is the sequel to the acclaimed Nowhere in Africa, which was turned into the Oscar-winning film of the same name. This novel traces the return of the Redlich family to Germany after their nine-year exile in Kenya during World War II. In Africa, Walter had longed for his homeland and dreamed of rebuilding his life as a lawyer, yet ultimately he and his family - wife Jettel, daughter Regina, and baby Max - realize that Germany seems as exotic and unwelcoming to them in 1947 as Kenya had seemed in 1938. Hunger and desperation are omnipresent in bombed-out Frankfurt, and this Jewish family - especially Regina, who misses Africa the most - has a hard time adjusting to their new circumstances. Yet slowly the family adapts to their new home amidst the ruins.

In Frankfurt, Regina matures into a woman and, though her parents want her to marry an upstanding Jewish man, her love life progresses in its own idiosyncratic fashion. She develops a passion for art and journalism and begins her professional career at a Frankfurt newspaper. Walter at last finds professional success as a lawyer, but never quite adjusts to life in Frankfurt, recalling with nostalgia his childhood in Upper Silesia and his years in Africa. Only his son Max truly finds what Walter had hoped for: a new homeland in Germany.

Although the Redlichs receive kindness from strangers, they also learn anti-Semitism still prevails in post-Nazi Germany. They partake in the West German 'economic miracle' with their own home, a second-hand car, and the discovery of television, but young Max’s discovery of the Holocaust revives long-buried memories. Rich in memorable moments and characters, this novel portrays the reality of postwar German society in vivid and candid detail.
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I have reread the book a couple of times. Find my new reviews here and here. and here

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review. I've had "nowhere in Africa" on my reading list for sometime but I didn't know there was a sequel. I'll have to read both.

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    1. Oh, I am glad I wrote the other review, then, otherwise you might not have found out. Let me know how you like them.

      Happy reading,
      Marianne

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