cover image Child of All Nations

Child of All Nations

Irmgard Keun, , trans. from the German by Michael Hofmann. . Overlook, $22.95 (194pp) ISBN 978-1-59020-099-5

First published in 1938 and now available in English, Keun's antic road novel set in pre-WWII Europe is a charmer that unfortunately sours. Ten-year-old narrator Kully's problems are bigger than the usual preadolescent angst. With Kully and her mother, Annie, in tow, her father, Peter, a novelist and journalist, has abandoned their native Germany, where many of his colleagues have been imprisoned during the fascist 1930s. The family is constantly on the move, from Poland and Belgium to the Netherlands and France. Peter—irresponsible, frequently broke, too fond of booze and women—has his family living on credit at fancy hotels and scrounges constantly and outrageously off publishers, relatives and acquaintances, often leaving Kully and Annie for weeks on end as he travels to drum up funds. Kully is often canny and amusing, and her dysfunctional family will resonate with many contemporary readers, but her voice and precociousness quickly become grating, and the political impressions of this European Eloise promise more than they deliver. (Sept.)