My tour of post-Soviet literature continues with a book that describes the last few months of life in the German Democrat Republic (G.D.R.). The story is told from the point of view of Maria, a seventeen year old girl who is trying to find her way in the world while living through some very tough circumstances. This book has three important aspects to explore, the first and foremost of which is a coming-of-age storyline. Maria is on the cusp on adulthood and has never had much guidance or supervision in her life. She has never known her father very well because he keeps leaving on trips to Russia throughout her childhood. She finds out that this distant father is about to marry a Russian woman that is Maria’s own age.
Maria’s mother is not someone she can rely on because of her constant sadness and depression that is the result of her failed marriage. Maria doesn’t hesitate to leave her mother’s home when she is given the chance to live with her boyfriend Johannes and his family on their farm. For the first time in her life Maria feels at home on the family farm; as she begins to help with the cooking and the daily chores on the farm her life suddenly has meaning and value and she is genuinely happy.
The next aspect of the book, which is arguably the most interesting, is the intense love story. But it is not a love story between Maria and her boyfriend Johannes. There is a man named Henner, a loner with a reputation for excessing drinking who lives on the farm next door, that attracts Maria’s attention. Henner is enigmatic and handsome and although he is twice her age, Maria is inexplicably drawn to him. Their love affair is passionate and intense and Henner is even rough when he makes love to Maria.
But Henner also has a tender side and as they spend time together he slowly reveals his story and his personality to Maria. Maria knows that what she feels for Henner is true love and she is living a double life. Maria has a much deeper and more mature connection with Henner despite their differences in age. She is torn apart trying to decide whether or not she should leave the comfort and safety of Johannes, his family and their farm in order to try to make a real life with Henner. Living with Henner as his lover will surely shock the whole town and Maria will be shunned for it.
Finally, this story is about a very interesting time period in German history as the G.D.R. falls and the country is once again reunited. The contrast between east and west in the novel is stark. Johannes has an uncle who, as a young man twenty years earlier, managed to escape to the west and get an education and work as an engineer. When the uncle comes to visit Maria feels frumpy and backwards compared to the uncle and his western-born and sophisticated wife. Maria is excited but also nervous about the anticipation of being able to experience all of the exotic things that the west has to offer.
This book is an intense and quick read that I highly recommend. This was actually the first book I read from Maclehose Press and I look forward exploring more of their catalog.
About the Author:
Daniela Krien was born in 1975 in what was then East Germany and lives in Leipzig, where she is an editor and scriptwriter for Amadelio Film. Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything is her first novel.