Monday, 15 July 2019

Book review : You Would Have Missed Me - Birgit Vanderbeke

Peirene have released another book from the There Be Monsters series : You Would Have Missed Me by Birgit Vanderbeke, skilfully translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch.

The author, who is one of Germany's most successful authors, was born in Dahme, East Germany, in 1956. When she was six years old, her family fled to the West and she grew up in Frankfurt. I have no idea if the book is autobiographical or not, but it certainly could be.

The narrator is a seven-year-old girl who has arrived in West Germany in the early 1960's from a camp for displaced people. She lives with her parents - a mother who largely ignores her and a father with a violent streak who doesn't seem to like her very much - but she has a few friends outside of her home who offer her a few moments of light relief. 

For her birthday, the girl wants just one thing - a cat - but she already knows that she has no chance of receiving one. Instead, she is given an illuminated globe, which initially leaves her feeling disappointed, but ultimately offers her a way to escape the misery of her depressing homelife.

In terms of action, not much happens, but the text is strangely enchanting and I ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting. The childish, innocent interpretations of things add a sense of humour and allow the reader to read more into certain statements or situations than the narrator actually understands.

The whole thing should be depressing, but it is strangely heartwarming. The young girl needs so little to find happiness and, despite their problems, the family are slowly moving upwards so there is a sense of hope for the future. I always think of East Germany as a bleak, hopeless place, so it was interesting to see the little girl's memories of her grandmother keeping rabbits and baking wonderful cakes. 

Hardly anyone talks about Berlin in the times of the Wall any more, so it was interesting to take a look back at life in Germany after the war.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £12

  • Paperback: 154 pages
  • Publisher: Peirene Press Ltd (1 Jun. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1908670525
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908670526
  • Product Dimensions: 12.3 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book in order to share my honest opinion.

1 comment:

  1. This is a new author for me, but I like the sound of this book. Everything is relative, for the East Germans the West Germany was the promised land, while we looked at the East Germany as a more civilised country of plenty.


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