cover image Anniversaries: From a Year in the Life of Gesine Cresspahl

Anniversaries: From a Year in the Life of Gesine Cresspahl

Uwe Johnson, trans. from the German by Damion Searls. New York Review Books, $39.95 box set (2,000p) ISBN 978-1-68137-203-7

In this sprawling multivolume novel, the events of one woman’s life over the course of a year in New York hearken back to several decades’ worth of German history and political upheaval. Gesine Cresspahl is a German woman in her mid-30s who lives with her daughter in New York and works for a bank. Johnson’s novel opens in the late summer of 1967, and proceeds through the following year day by day, with all of the political turmoil that that entails—both in the United States and behind the Iron Curtain. Interspersed with this are occasional meditations on the New York Times and, more prominently, the story of Gesine’s family over the course of her early life. In this way, Johnson covers the rise of fascism in Germany, the wartime experience there, and the separation of the nation into East and West. The novel’s 1967 segments occasionally trace the aftereffects of fascism and sometimes parallel the tumultuous American politics of the moment, including the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Johnson keeps the line between past and present murky, which seems in keeping with his larger points about the nature of history as it’s remembered versus history as it’s lived. The growing political consciousness of Gesine’s daughter, Marie, provides a wonderful counterpoint to the novel’s themes of crises personal, national, and global. This is a haunting and unforgettable portrait of the momentous and the historical. (Oct.)