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Book cover Us, In Between

Julya Rabinowich Dazwischen: Wir
[Us, In Between]

Translation Grant Programme
Published in Italian with a grant from

Keep looking forwards, never look back

In 2016, Austrian author, translator and columnist Julya Rabinowich became an overnight hit with the appearance of her first novel for younger readers: Dazwischen: Ich (Me, In Between). Six years later and Rabinowich’s sequel to Dazwischen: Ich has recently been published: Dazwischen: Wir (Us: In Between). Once again, we find ourselves discussing children’s literature of the highest calibre.

If Dazwischen: Ich passed you by, you are missing a treat, but you do not need to have read the first book in order to immerse yourself in the second. Rabinowich artfully weaves in important information from the first book, almost as sidenotes in the form of letters, memories and dreams. Little by little, this brings you up to speed with what has happened since Madina’s family made their dangerous journey to flee their homeland.

For over two years, the teenager has been living in central Europe with her mother, brother and aunt. Where she comes from isn’t important. The foursome now has an apartment, good friends and are living in safety. Their life in the refugee hostel with its many restrictions remains just an unpleasant memory. Madina even starts to feel settled at school. It could all be so good, except that her dad is still missing in the war, her mum is struggling with depression, and more and more radical right-wing supporters are spreading unease throughout their small town.

Madina has mastered the new language better than the rest of her family and so it falls to her to become their manager. Sometimes it all runs smoothly and she’s proud of her situation, content with the many freedoms she is afforded, especially compared with her life back home. But she is often overwhelmed: it is Madina who is called upon to handle issues concerning her mother and younger brother, to stand up against racist hostilities as well as dealing with her own disturbing trauma. The war she fled with her family was horrific and as her father was a medic, she witnessed far too much.

Julya Rabinowich sensitively describes her sporty, intelligent protagonist, suggestive of the fact that she has bitter first-hand experiences of migration and the feeling of being foreign in a new land. But Madina does not give up; she wants to “keep looking forwards, never look back.” Veering between happiness and anger, joy and doubt, she has been forced to grow up far too quickly.

Madina’s diary forms the structure of the novel, and so we find ourselves directly connected to her heart and mind, witnessing first-hand her courage and her dreams, her worries and her desires. Emotional, yet never maudlin, poetic but never pathetic, often serious and in turns ironic, the young woman describes the ups and downs of a difficult yet beautiful year.

The author has purposefully left the exact location of the novel unsaid. And it is really irrelevant whether that is Austria or Germany. Either way, the cultural differences are significant, seeping through into her daily life, from her skin colour, to her clothes, to the missing words in her vocabulary and her mother’s lack of independence. In many countries, this novel will be particularly poignant, as people with harrowing experiences of war and the need to flee arrive in new countries. In 2022, this feels even more so, as the war in Ukraine affects people across Europe.
With its plain, concise language, sensitive structures and impressive imagery, this novel present translators with certain challenges. For Madina, the writing itself becomes a tight grip on the search for her own path, and a large dose of empathy, precision and the feel for the language will be required to convey this.

While there are numerous books for young people about immigration, foreignness and xenophobia, Julya Rabinowich‘s books stand out with their empathetic yet defiant descriptions of a life “In Between”. Even the supple voice falls in between, carefully balanced between power and insecurity, courage and timidity. We would love to find out how Madina and her family get on during the next school year!
Book cover Us, In Between

By Sylvia Schwab

​Sylvia Schwab is a radio journalist with a special interest in literature for children and teenagers. She serves on the jury for the monthly ‘Best 7’ list of books for young readers produced under the aegis of Deutschlandfunk and Focus, and works for Hessischer Rundfunk, Deutschlandfunk and Deutschlandradio-Kultur.