cover image The Old Child and Other Stories

The Old Child and Other Stories

Jenny Erpenbeck, , trans. from the German by Susan Bernofsky. . New Directions, $14.95 (120pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1608-1

This enigmatic collection by East Berlin–born Erpenbeck explores entwined personal and political histories through the literal loss of memory. In the title story, a 75-page novella, an adolescent-looking female amnesiac is taken off the streets and into a Dresden home for children. As the story unfolds, there are signs that the girl, a metaphorical East Germany, may not be so young after all, and that her attempts to freeze herself in time, and to forget, are failing. In the exquisitely moving "Sand," a girl watches as her aging grandmother becomes frail and strange, inhabited by youthful laughter that, the girl realizes, "must be her own laughter that has returned to her like a lost daughter." "Hale and Hearty" tells the story of Maria Kainbacher, who looks up a friend from 50 years before and, by voicing their shared experiences, jolts Gertrud into vivid recollections (which Erpenbeck then wrenches to a tritely abrupt conclusion). Dark and cryptic, the stories are too diffuse in their language and plot to approach the Grimm-like precision they seem to aim for, but they provide a window into a post-1989 European political unconscious that continues to take shape. (Oct. 28)