Excerpt from Motherland by Maria Hummel, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Motherland

By Maria Hummel

Motherland
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Jan 2014,
    400 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


A thin cry came from upstairs.

"All right," Liesl said, not moving. "But I'm writing to Herr Kappus about this."

The cry lengthened to a scream.

The scraping paused. "Where's that child?" said the voice from behind the wall. "I hear a child crying."

She did not answer Herr Geiss, but she turned and mounted the first step. "Ani, Hans, time to go upstairs."

"I want to stay here," said Hans.

"I want to stay here," said Ani.

"It's time to go upstairs," she said, louder.

The baby wailed. The boys did not move. They stared at the hole, transfixed. "If you don't come, there will be no dinner for either of you," she snapped.

The mention of food made the boys wilt back from the wall.

"We were just looking," Ani said, his eyes wide. He was such a beautiful boy—it struck her every day like a splash of water to the face.

She cleared her throat, sure Herr Geiss was still listening, thinking, Cruel stepmother, depriving these growing boys.

Or was he thinking that she ought to have a firmer hand with them? "I found some elderberry jam," she said.

Ani started toward her, but Hans hooked his fingers over his brother's shoulder, holding him back.

"Fine, then. Two minutes," she said, hastening up the stairs. Slapslap- slap, a pathetic retreat in house slippers.

Later, when the older boys were washing up, she carried Jürgen carefully back down the steps and listened to the silence until she was sure Herr Geiss had gone. A thin veil of light fell through the cellar's low window. Blinking, she felt her way along the crumbly wall. After five paces, she sensed a shift in the air, a cold draft stinging her ankles where her tights had ripped. She stopped, peered. The gap was the size of a man's shoulders. Through it, blackness poured, the same coal-soaked air as their own cellar's, but somehow richer, deeper. She looked closer. At least a meter of packed dirt and stones separated the houses' two walls. It must have taken days to dig, and probably the help of other men. Herr Geiss could have asked her first. But why would he? Herr Geiss knew best. He was a member of the local air raid committee, and he had studied everything there was to know about protecting their houses from bombs.

"What do you think of this?" she murmured to the baby, holding him up to the crumbling edge. Jürgen stretched out a fat paw and batted the dirt and stones. "Do you think your Vati will approve?"

A few stones tumbled. The baby swatted at the wall again and more dirt fell. He began to giggle, and reached out with both hands, grabbing the rim with open fingers.

"Stop," she cried. She pulled the baby back to her chest with her left hand and lurched back toward the steps.

Her knee thudded against something heavy and cold. It was the vat that had held the family's sauerkraut every winter. This year, the sauerkraut had rotted in the weeks after Liesl had arrived, after the housekeeper had abandoned the family. Liesl hadn't known that pushing down the cabbage was part of the housekeeper's daily duties until the morning she looked out from the second story and saw Frank dumping the moldy brew out onto the grass. She couldn't get the image out of her mind: Frank's back quaking uncontrollably as he upended the earthenware tub and scrubbed it clean. But he'd never said anything to her—no accusation, no explanation.

For his last package, she'd made a stollen dough from Susi's handwritten recipe, kneaded and shaped it carefully around a film canister stuffed with reichsmark and a map of Germany, and paid a local bakery more than the loaf was worth to bake it hard and golden. In every step of the stollen's production, Liesl was conscious of her inevitable failure. It would never taste like Susi's. It would never get past the censors. Nevertheless she'd wrapped the loaf carefully in butcher paper so it wouldn't grow stale and wrote a note warning Frank about the "fig" she'd baked whole inside. She wondered if he'd understand. She could tell by the soft way Frank looked at her that he didn't think she was capable of deceit. He'd ironed her old life flat with his desire, then molded her into what he needed. The young wife. She leaned her cheek into Jürgen's warm skull. The new mother.

Excerpted from Motherland by Maria Hummel. Copyright © 2014 by Maria Hummel. Excerpted by permission of Counterpoint Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Systematic Euthanasia

Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Take This Man
    Take This Man
    by Brando Skyhorse
    "A chorus of six men calling me Son might sound ludicrous to you, but to me it's the sound of ...
  • Book Jacket: The Hundred-Year House
    The Hundred-Year House
    by Rebecca Makkai
    Rebecca Makkai's sophomore novel The Hundred-Year House could just have easily been titled ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Valley of Amazement
    by Amy Tan
    "Mirror, Mirror on the wall
    I am my mother after all!"


    In my pre-retirement days as a professor ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Tomlinson Hill
by Chris Tomlinson

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.