Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman

Friedrich Christian Delius, trans. from the German by Jamie Bulloch. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $13 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-374-53329-8
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Despite well-executed lyricism and a strong sense of time and place, this slender fiction, Delius’s first to receive an English translation, manages to feel both padded and inchoate. Twenty-one and pregnant, Liese is living in Rome in 1943 while her husband, Gert, serves with the German army in Africa. Liese, trained as a housekeeper and kindergarten teacher, resides with German nuns and has access to an obstetrician, among other comforts, in a time when many Italians suffer from wartime scarcity, poverty, and privation. Mostly for health reason, Liese walks through Rome, lost in observing life in wartime (children daring to imitate Mussolini; the beauty of “palms, cypresses, pines, and agaves on a high garden terrace behind a four-or five-meter-high wall”) and contemplating the past (Gert asking whether he could address her in the informal rather than formal manner during their brief courtship; her father’s transition from impoverished child to traveling preacher). The author and poet does well describing the particularities of this young woman’s circumstance through these walks, but with no real inner or outer conflict, it’s never more than a sketch. Agent: Kristina Krombholz, Rowohlt Berlin. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/12/2011
Release date: 01/31/2012
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