Motherland is inspired by stories from the author's father and his German childhood, and letters between her grandparents that were hidden in an attic wall for fifty years. It is the author's attempt to reckon with the paradox of her father - a product of her grandparents' fiercely protective love and their status as Mitläufer, Germans who "went along" with Nazism, first reaping its benefits and later its consequences.
This page-turning novel focuses on the Kappus family: Frank is a reconstructive surgeon who lost his beloved wife in childbirth and two months later married a young woman who must look after the baby and his two grieving sons when he is drafted into medical military service. Alone in the house, Liesl must attempt to keep the children fed with dwindling food supplies, safe from the constant Allied air attacks, and protected against the swell of desperate refugees flooding their town. When one child begins to mentally unravel, Liesl must discover the source of the boy's infirmity or lose him forever to Hadamar, the infamous hospital for "unfit" children. The novel bears witness to the shame and courage of Third Reich families during the devastating last days of the war, as each family member's fateful choices lead them deeper into questions of complicity and innocence, to the novel's heartbreaking and unforgettable conclusion.
When Liesl heard the noise from the cellar, her hand shook and the
coffee spilled. The liquid spread in claws across the counter, its color
neither brown nor red nor black, but some combination of all three,
earthen and old. A hopeless feeling rose in her chest. She had discovered
the grounds deep in the pantry yesterday, tucked behind a post, in a
tiny tin next to a tiny pot of jam, both labeled in the first wife's hand. It
was surely the last real coffee in all of Hannesburg, boiled with the last
of the morning coal, the sharp selfish heaven of its scent rising toward
her face. Then it splashed everywhere.
She heard the noise again, a grating, chinking sound, and then the murmur of the boys. What were they doing down there? Everything made her startle this morning. She had sent the package to Frank two weeks ago, confidently inking the address of the Weimar hospital where he was stationed as a reconstructive surgeon. Nothing suspicious in here...
Maria Hummel's characterizations, rich descriptions and portrayal of a city in wartime make this one a good choice for anyone who enjoys WWII novels that focus on the way the conflict impacted the citizens of Germany.
(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).
Full Review (1209 words).
In Motherland, one of the brothers, Ani, is a patient at a hospital in Hadamar, which was notorious for implementing the Nazis' systematic euthanasia program.
Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection had the unintended consequence of giving birth to Social Darwinism – determining the course of human evolution through selective breeding, otherwise known as eugenics. The idea was very popular in Europe and particularly the United States in the early part of the 20th century. Several countries (including the USA) developed policies whereby those with hereditary mental or physical defects could be sterilized to prevent them from "contaminating" the general population.
In Germany, the National Socialists (Nazis) put "...
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