Winner of the German Book Prize, The Blindness of the Heart is a dark marvel of a novel by one of Europes freshest young voices a family story spanning two world wars and several generations in a German family. In the devastating opening scene, a woman named Helene stands with her seven-year-old son in a provincial German railway station in 1945, amid the chaos of civilians fleeing west. Having survived with him through the horror and deprivation of the war years, she abandons him on the station platform and never returns.
The story quickly circles back to Helenes childhood with her sister Martha in rural Germany, which came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of the First World War. Their father is sent to the eastern front, and their Jewish mother withdraws from the hostility of her surroundings into a state of mental confusion. In the early 1920s, after their father's death, Helene and Martha move to Berlin, where Helene falls in love with a philosophy student named Carl, and finds a place for herself for the first time. But when Carl dies just before their engagement, life becomes largely meaningless for her, and she takes refuge in her work as a nurse. At a party Helene meets an ambitious civil engineer who wants to build motorways for the Reich and make Helene his wife. Their marriage proves disastrous, but produces a son, and Helene soon finds the love demanded by the little boy more than she can provide.
Julia Francks unforgettable English language debut throws new light on life in early-twentieth-century Germany, revealing the breathtaking scope of its citizens denialthe blindness of the heart that survival often demanded. The reader, however, brings his or her own historical perspective to bear on the events unfolding, and the result is a disturbing and compulsive reading experience about a country ravaged from the inside out.
What can the general reader glean from immersion in this period between wars, which offers seemingly little respite from a mostly bleak trajectory? This may be a fair question, yet it may also be unfair to ask for greater redemptive interludes; The Blindness of the Heart is very much a tale of chilling times, and fittingly, it adopts an unsparing approach... this demonstration of how easily passivity could happen, day by day... transforms one woman's story into a more piercing, provocative consideration of how society at large can permit crimes to escalate even when individuals may not condone them. (Reviewed by Karen Rigby).
Evening Standard (UK)
Winner of the German Book Prize ... this is a great, big silence-breaker of a novel, a laser beam into the German darkness from a writer, one feels, has a great deal more to say.
The Guardian (UK)
Disturbing, original and brilliant.
The Independent (UK)
One of the most haunting works I have ever read about twentieth-century Germany ...The book’s moral perspective is faultless, as is Franck’s sensitivity to character, sexuality and the struggle to be a free woman in a fascist society. ... The Blind Side of the Heart is a masterpiece.
The Scotsman (UK)
A rich, moving, and complex novel ... A brief summary cannot do justice to the penetrating imagination of this book, to the author’s certainty of tone and to the wealth of significant detail she provides. [Julia Franck] offers a panorama of a society stumbling blindfolded towards disaster.
Der Spiegel (Germany)
The most astounding piece of storytelling of the season ... The way Julia Franck weaves together stories from the emotional depths and interactions and unpacks them again with an almost joyful thoroughness is exhilarating.
The Irish Times
Winner of the major German literary award ... Franck’s bold, often shocking family saga is fearless. ... There is a relentless sense of purpose about the complex, ever-shifting narrative that continually tests the reader.
Die Zeit (Germany)
This novel has everything it needs: talent and skill and something to say. It is hot and cold, cruel and idyllic, sensual and sober.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Mij Woodward Fantastic! I so loved this book. Absorbing, gripping, fascinating. Could not put it down. Seen through the eyes of a half-Jewish woman before, during and after WWII.
Bautzen, located in the Upper Lusatia region, along the Spree River in Saxony, dates back to the Stone Age, though it was not mentioned in writing (as "Budusin") until the eleventh century. The city acquired its present name in 1868.
Its history has been marked by several widely documented events, including the pogroms on Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") from November 9-10, 1938, so named for the orchestrated destruction of numerous synagogues, homes, and Jewish businesses by Nazi stormtroopers.
It is also the site of Bautzen I and Bautzen II, prisons that acquired notoriety as the "Yellow Misery" and the "Stasi Prison," respectively, for their treatment of those who were considered political dissidents during the National Socialist Regime. According to the Gedenk Stätte Bautzen (Bautzen Memorial), "Bautzen is the symbol of political imprisonment in Germany."
Set in an unnamed time and place, Brodeck blends the familiar and unfamiliar, myth and history into a work of extraordinary power and resonance. Readers of J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace, Bernhard Schlink's The Reader and Kafka will be captivated by Brodeck.
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