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Marrow and Bone: Book summary and reviews of Marrow and Bone by Walter Kempowski

Marrow and Bone

by Walter Kempowski

Marrow and Bone by Walter Kempowski X
Marrow and Bone by Walter Kempowski
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  • Published in USA  Mar 2020
    208 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

A moving, darkly funny road trip novel about World War II, returning to one's birthplace, and coming to terms with tragedy.

West Germany, 1988, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall: Jonathan Fabrizius, a middle-aged erstwhile journalist, has a comfortable existence in Hamburg, bankrolled by his furniture-manufacturing uncle. He lives with his girlfriend Ulla in a grand, decrepit prewar house that just by chance escaped annihilation by the Allied bombers. One day Jonathan receives a package in the mail from the Santubara Company, a luxury car company, commissioning him to travel in their newest V8 model through the People's Republic of Poland and to write about the route for a car rally. Little does the company know that their choice location is Jonathan's birthplace, for Jonathan is a war orphan from former East Prussia, whose mother breathed her last fleeing the Russians and whose father, a Nazi soldier, was killed on the Baltic coast.

At first Jonathan has no interest in the job, or in dredging up ancient family history, but as his relationship with Ulla starts to wane, the idea of a return to his birthplace, and the money to be made from the gig, becomes more appealing. What follows is a darkly comic road trip, a queasy misadventure of West German tourists in Communist Poland, and a reckoning that is by turns subtle, satiric, and genuine. Marrow and Bone is an uncomfortably funny and revelatory odyssey by one of the most talented and nuanced writers of postwar Germany.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"First published in German in 1992, this is a time capsule that feels contemporary as it looks for answers to big questions about war and suffering. Probing a part of WWII that few Americans know, Kempowski reveals how the damage goes on long after the guns fall silent." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Kempowski's unsparing, dagger-sharp prose leads Jonathan to face the loss of his parents and homeland. This hilarious, deeply affecting exploration of postwar dichotomies successfully channels the satire of Confederacy of Dunces and the somber reflectiveness of Austerlitz." - Publishers Weekly

"[Marrow and Bone] walks a tightrope between black humor and horror...the past bleeds, unasked and largely unremarked, into the present; in the end, neither German suffering nor German guilt can be suppressed." - The Guardian (UK)

"[A] subtly devastating portrait of how a life can be defined by memories of past suffering, even when those memories appear to be submerged under a calm surface." - The Times Literary Supplement (UK)

"We follow the protagonist on his gripping inner journey as he navigates conflicting feelings of shame and arrogance, empathy and ignorance. It is the portrayal of this sense of utter disorientation as well as Kempowski's ultimate conclusion — that the only constructive way of addressing one's country's guilt is through a deeply emotional, personal confrontation — that makes Marrow and Bone so humane." - Nora Krug, author of Belonging: A German Reckons With History And Home

"Kempowski's Marrow and Bone is a staggering book about our blind spots, the dead who live within us. About the cruelty of the human race, which is more fundamental to our nature than the concept of guilt by which we seek to exorcise it. And about our forsakenness in the world, which is greater than the daily routines in which we try to find salvation." - Jenny Erpenbeck

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After World War II, Walter Kempowski (1929–2007) settled in Hamburg, but on returning to his hometown of Rostock in the late 1940s was sentenced by a Soviet military tribunal to twenty-five years in prison for espionage. His immense project Echo Soundings, which gathers firsthand accounts, diaries, letters, and memoirs of World War II, is considered a modern classic.

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