Category: Fiction

Andreas Maier
Die Familie
[The Family]

Novel

IN THE HOUSE OF THE SILENT CHILDREN

One of the most interesting auto-fictional projects in contemporary German-language literature is called Ortsumgehung (a title that at once signifies a “bypass” in the sense of a road avoiding a town and the act of circumambulating a place). For more than a decade the writer Andreas Maier, who was born in 1967 in Bad Nauheim and grew up in the Wetterau region north of Frankfurt, has been at work on a cycle of novels in eleven volumes exploring the narrower and wider space of his origins and placing his biography in the context of recent history. The lapidary titles indicate the successive stages of the retrospective process: Progressing from the inside out, the narrator had worked his way from The Room, through The House, The Street, The Town and The District, to The University, where his studies of philosophy included theories of truth. But now he has returned to his parental home once again: the seventh volume of the series revolves around The Family.

At the same time, it marks a break in the narrative: Investigating his family’s past, the author has come across incongruities that compel him to deconstruct the myth of his identity and look back on everything reported so far from a different perspective. In this way, this novel, even more so than the preceding ones, gains an independence to which Andreas Maier attaches great importance: Since he considers the traditional novel form outdated, he aims to give his books new, autonomous structures that make it possible to read them individually, outside of the cyclical context, without further ado. 

Despite the dryly ironic tone that characterizes Maier’s narration, his Heimat saga has up to now had distinctly idyllic features. The cracks running through West German society during the years he grew up and shaking its foundations, triggered by the belatedly exposed lies and repressions of the “economic miracle” generation, seemed to touch the narrator’s respectable home among the fruit trees of the Hessian provinces at most from a distance. Now it is revealed to him by chance that his family was deeply involved in the machinations of the National Socialists and that their prosperity was based on the expropriation and expulsion of Jewish fellow citizens. And suddenly he sees many things in a new light, things he had perceived as a child and adolescent with a certain unease and yet could not pin down: speechlessness and the litany-like repetition of clichés, quarrels with relatives, inheritance disputes, the dubious behavior of his father, who was a lawyer and conservative local politician, the hysterical reactions of his mother, the rebellion of his older brother. And the demolition of a landmarked mill on their property, which in the book serves as a powerful metaphor for the destruction of illusions.

When his world of origin is subsequently thrown out of joint, the narrator, not without melancholy, finds himself and his project disenchanted too: “My beautiful Wetterau! All this time it could be literature. It could bloom, give off scents, float, fly…” He must recognize: “We are the children of the silent children.” His alter ego, the author Andreas Maier, notes: “All this time I’ve been writing postwar literature without realizing it.” It’s a postwar literature likely to reflect common experiences of his generation in many ways. And precisely by dint of its laconic sobriety, often intermingled with comedy, it once again throws an explosive charge into the German silence so persistently handed down.
Kristina Maidt-Zinke

By Kristina Maidt-Zinke, 04.03.2020

​Kristina Maidt-Zinke is a literary and music critic for the Süddeutsche Zeitung and writes reviews for Die Zeit.

Translated by Ross Benjamin