GILLYFLOWER KID by Christine Bruckner


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In Flight of Cranes (p. 503), Bruckner recounted the post-WW II, Mother Courage-like saga of Maximiliane Quindt and her children--fleeing the Russian invaders, then living through the next decades. Here, in a less eventful but equally assured novel, originally published in 1975 Germany (two years before Flight of Cranes), she offers the first half of Maximiliane's life--virtually all of it spent on her grandfather's estate in Pomerania. Born in 1918, Maximiliane is fatherless: the young Baron Quindt dies on the battlefield during the war's last days. And she soon is virtually orphaned: mother Vera, a Berliner who is restless with estate life in Pomerania, becomes an emancipated woman, a photographer, eventually marrying a Jewish doctor in Berlin, leaving her daughter behind. So little Maximiliane grows up in total thrall to her grandfather: ""Old Quindt,"" an irascible, non-conforming, tradition-loving yet liberal Baron who is anything but receptive to the rise of Nazism. There's a series of governesses for Maximiliane, then schools--where Maximiliane stirs up a slight fuss with her quietly voiced anti-war sentiments. But, despite Old Quindt's politics and Vera's increasing peril from Hitlerism, young Maximiliane finds herself smitten with love for her distant cousin Viktor--a Nazi official on the rise. And, aside from one blissful bout of pastoral adultery, Maximiliane spends the late Thirties and early Forties as a genuinely devoted, thoroughly passive soldier's wife: producing babies for the Reich; tolerating Viktor's coldness; cheerfully taking in Viktor's small illegitimate daughter; trying to calm the flare-ups between husband and grandfather; and doing her best as conditions worsen during the war--until she and children must flee from the Russians . . . while Old Quindt chooses suicide over abandonment of the estate. Again, as in Flight of Cranes, Bruckner fails to make Maximiliane's blithe passivity towards Viktor convincing--especially in light of her non-conformist upbringing. And saga-readers will probably be disappointed by the largely unmelodramatic scenario here. But the rural setting offers a relatively fresh angle on German responses to Nazism--and Bruckner's matter-of-fact, occasionally ironic narration makes this a steadily engaging, if rarely exciting or moving, family/ politics portrait (with Old Quindt, not Maximiliane, always grabbing the greatest attention).

Pub Date: Oct. 13th, 1982
Publisher: Fromm International (560 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10022)