An utterly compelling look at pre–World War II Germany, first published in 1938 and available in English for the first time.
Keun was born in Berlin in 1905. She achieved critical success with the novels Gilgi—One of Us (1931) and The Artificial Silk Girl (1932). Her witty, candid portraits of Weimar Germany were banned by the Nazis, and she spent several years in exile. This book provides a child’s-eye view of Europe on the brink of World War II. Keun’s young narrator, Kully, is a refugee, and she offers a succinct explanation for her family’s exodus from Germany: Her father is a writer, but the government will no longer allow him to write the things he wants to write. “When I was in Germany, before, I did go to school, and that’s where I learned to read and write…,” she says. “I wonder what the point is of children in Germany still having to learn to read and write?” This philosophical query—naïve, incisive, funny—is typical of Kully. Keun has no illusions about the innocence or unknowingness of children. Kully is one of literature’s great child narrators, and her creator manages to generate pathos without resorting to melodrama or sentimental exaggeration. Hofmann’s unadorned translation enlivens the work.
Poignant, especially for contemporary readers who know that far greater horrors were still to come.