Political activist Huber (Writing and Linguistics/Georgia Southern Univ.) combines original research, historical fiction and personal recollections in her attempt to connect with the anti-Nazi grandfather she never met.
Seeking an example of those who balanced activism, career and family as she struggled to do, the author traveled to the Ruhr region to study the life of her maternal grandfather—“Opa” in German—Heinrich (Heina) Buschmann Jr. Huber’s mother once called him a “nobody,” but he was in fact a tireless voice for the working class and a respected leader of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), a group caught between the extremes of Communism and Nazism. To discern this voice and “summon” her grandfather, Huber crafts fictional scenes from Heina’s life, interspersing them with passages about her own parallel experiences. Heina hands out leaflets for a parliamentary election; Huber protests the Iraq War. Heina considers leaving the party his father helped build when it supports rearmament; Huber devastates her immigrant mother by quitting college and joining an anarchist group. These echoes are occasionally forced, and the disparity between consequences for activists in a brutal dictatorship and those in a free-speech democracy sometimes makes the author’s examples seem trivializing. In addition to inhabiting Heina’s thoughts, Huber sets herself a further challenge in striving to understand his brother, Jupp, who joined Hitler’s elite guard, the SS. The narrative’s tension is undermined when historical passages are directly succeeded by commentary identifying them as fabrication. Even so, sharp human insights on the omnipresent moral complications of living in Nazi Germany make this a worthwhile read.
Bumpy, but a unique, imaginative take on the family memoir.