cover image The Blindness of the Heart

The Blindness of the Heart

Julia Franck, trans. from the German by Anthea Bell, Grove, $24.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-8021-1967-4

Why would a mother abandon her seven-year-old son at a train station in 1945 Germany just as the fighting ends? In her powerful first novel to be translated into English, Franck poses the question before tracking back to the woman's WWI childhood. As the story progresses from one war to the next, Franck wrestles with a much broader question—why did so many Germans appear blind to the horrors on their horizon? Helene is the younger of two daughters of an Aryan father who survives the battlefield to die a pitiful death at home, and a Jewish mother who is something of a 20th-century Cassandra. The sisters flee rural life (and their mother) and are taken in by a relative in Berlin, where they are engulfed by the city's interwar debauchery. But as the economy deteriorates and the political situation heats up, Helene and her sister make do with fewer resources and dwindling freedoms. Helene finds love with a Jewish philosophy student, but succumbs, after a cruel twist, to another, colder man. Franck's insights are profound and alarming, and her storytelling makes the familiar material read fresh. (Oct.)