You Are Not Like Other Mothers

Angelika Schrobsdorff, trans. from the German by Steven Rendall. Europa (Penguin, dist.), $18 trade paper (528p) ISBN 978-1-60945-075-5
Schrobsdorff’s title comes from a poem that describes a mother who doesn’t “envelop” her children “[i]n heavy care.” The mother, Else—the uninhibited daughter of middle-class Jewish parents in turn-of-the-century Berlin—has three children (Peter, Bettina, and Angelika) by three men (Fritz, Hans, and Erich), whose stories span WWI, the Roaring ’20s, and WWII. As her kids mature in a tumultuous world, Else struggles to understand how an era that granted her unprecedented intellectual and sexual freedom could produce such unimaginable horror. Peter fights against the Nazis, while Else and the girls seek safety in Bulgaria. In exile, she grapples with her failings and the shattered promise of liberal Germany. As WWII continues, Else’s romantic exploits are suddenly halted when a paralyzed facial nerve destroys her perennial beauty, and her children’s politics threaten what stability the family has retained. Schrobsdorff’s candor and shrewd characterizations create an unsentimental yet immensely compassionate portrait of a mother who was gloriously and tragically unlike other mothers, whose charm and fatal flaw was her lack of “heavy care.” (May)
Reviewed on: 03/26/2012
Release date: 04/24/2012
Genre: Fiction
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