The Bells in Their Silence: Travels Through Germany

Michael Edward Gorra, Author
Michael Edward Gorra, Author Princeton University Press $44 (232p) ISBN 978-0-691-11765-2
Reviewed on: 03/01/2004
Release date: 03/01/2004
Paperback - 211 pages - 978-0-691-12617-3
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Gorra, a Smith College English professor, first visited Germany in 1993, when he was invited to give a lecture. He was taken aback at how much he liked the country, and how interesting he found it.""I was startled to find I was enjoying myself, startled because once you get past the idea of Oktoberfest, the words 'enjoy' and 'Germany' don't, for an American, seem to belong together."" This unlikely travelogue explores the nuances of Gorra's social, cultural and even monetary exchanges. The author's accounts illustrate his hypothesis that our American memory of WWII still informs our relationship with contemporary Germany. In one episode, Gorra finds himself at a customs office, struggling with the language and trying to retrieve a damaged parcel from the U.S.""I was given a knife and asked to open it. Books. And on top, the very first volume that both the customs official and I saw, was Hitler's Willing Executioners.... I felt vaguely embarrassed about it, as if the book's appearance at the top of the box had confirmed the German stereotype about the American stereotype of Germans."" Gorra is most successful in these moments of surprise and sometimes even shame. Other times, the book feels burdened by references to scores of other writers and philosophers and reads more like an academic text than insightful travel writing.
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