ANNIVERSARIES: From the Life of Gesine Cresspahl by Uwe Johnson

ANNIVERSARIES: From the Life of Gesine Cresspahl

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Uwe Johnson (Two views; Speculations about Jacob; etc.) was originally considered the German equivalent of the French nouveau romanciers -- a visual documentarist and collector of detail in the pursuit of what one critic called hyperreality. Almost too graphic, however, to be experimental in the really innovative sense. Anniversaries, written in this country, is to be a work of two parts although this first section runs to about 900 pages concretizing two worlds (the Germany of yesterday, the Vietnam of the late '60's) in an ever alternating current of past and present. The I-am-a-camera technique is almost defeating -- swivelling backward and forward, often repeating the same incident in the same words. One narrator is Gesine Cresspahl, now a survivor in New York, telling her Marie (her child from a dubious love affair) of her own parents' tragedy. Gesine is now working in a bank and evading commitment to a nice professor who assures her he'll always be there. The other narrator is that ""little old lady"". . . ""showing her age"" -- The New York Times whose files provide almost daily news dips that lend a momentary specification of places (Miami, La Paz, West Berlin) or people (Che Guevara, Eartha Kitt, Lynda Johnson). If the novel involves you personally to any degree, it will be through Gesine's mother Lisbeth -- Lisbeth the daughter of the pumpernickel-solid Papenbrocks from the village of Jerichow, Lisbeth who married an English cabinetmaker Cresspahl and returned, misguidedly, from England to Jerichow, Lisbeth who could never reconcile the teachings of the Church with the demands of the Nazis, Lisbeth who died -- just how? after her arrest -- imposed or self-willed in a fire? while Cresspahl fled with the young Gesine. . . . The book in one sense is a triumph -- of mobility, of synchronous complexity, of shafting irony -- even where the relentless flagging just about obliterates.

Pub Date: Feb. 12th, 1974
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich