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Die Verteidigung der Kindheit : Roman door…
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Die Verteidigung der Kindheit : Roman (editie 1991)

door Martin Walser

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551367,144 (3.3)7
Titel:Die Verteidigung der Kindheit : Roman
Auteurs:Martin Walser
Info:Frankfurt am Main : Suhrkamp, 1991.
Verzamelingen:Jouw bibliotheek
Trefwoorden:fiction, Germany, Dresden, DDR, Berlin, Wiesbaden, civil servants


Die Verteidigung der Kindheit door Martin Walser

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Alfred Dorn, the central figure of this book — obviously meant as Walser's big post-Wende novel of German history — is born in Dresden in 1929, grows up there, emigrates to West Berlin in 1953, and eventually becomes a civil servant in the Hessian culture ministry.

Whilst he goes through the motions of a respectable career, Alfred's whole life is in reality blighted by an obsessive need to recapture physical evidence and memories of the childhood he was cut off from by the bombing raid of 13 February 1945, which he and his parents survived by the merest accident. Alfred is stuck in a destructively close relationship with his mother (he's caring for her in his student room whilst trying to get through his final law exams), and he never comes to terms with key parts of adult life: he's repelled equally by manifestations of sexuality and by political or religious engagement. His low self-esteem also makes it difficult for him to trust other people and form proper friendships, and he spends most of his free time in correspondence with old ladies who might be able to remember some detail of life in Dresden before 1945.

Alfred's failure in life is also reflected in the way he is never allowed to deviate from a career path in law and public administration that he doesn't seem to have any real interest in or aptitude for, whilst his (presumed) talents as a musician and a caricaturist are constantly hinted at but never developed. At one point he does have a project for a historical novel (set, inevitably, in the 18th century Saxon court) under way, but this turns out to be a sterile exercise as well.

There's a lot of very interesting stuff in this book, close observation of how German society worked in the 50s and 60s and what mattered to people (the endless wars Alfred gets into with his Berlin landladies, for instance), as well as insights into the limitations of legal and civil-service ways of seeing the world. Alfred works for a while in an office processing compensation claims from victims of Nazi terror: there's plenty of irony in the way he has to keep requesting documentary evidence from people whose pasts have been erased even more thoroughly than his own. And it also gives a close view of the day to day realities of the way the German-German border messed up the lives of families separated by it, the bureaucratic nightmares of applying for travel permits or sending letters and parcels under constantly changing rules. Although I don't think Walser quite manages to convey the element of fear that went along with all that inconvenience.

This isn't the Tin Drum of the Berlin Wall. Awful though he is, Grass obviously likes Oskar Matzerath and finds him funny, and we can't help liking him too. But Walser clearly got exasperated by Alfred Dorn long before the end of the book, and he can't help making the reader feel the same way. Alfred is not funny, there's no way we can laugh at him except nastily. And 500 pages of someone like that is more than anyone can reasonably be expected to take... ( )
1 stem thorold | Apr 8, 2021 |
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