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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Zwölf Jahre

I am writing about a book I read in German today (only had the translated version), but I cannot get myself to write in German for some reason. Maybe a way to distance myself, maybe just showing off, maybe I just feel more comfortable writing in English nowadays. I have spent most of the last five-six years doing just that after all. I haven't been very busy on this thing here (the word blog seems so...limiting?), mostly because I spend my life studying for two of the most important exams I've ever taken, and when I say life I mean it.

Anyway, today I again went to the library early in the morning and read a book about the German legislative system. I just couldn't do it anymore after a while though, so I went home instead and finished my subway reading material, Joel Agee's Twelve Years - An American Boyhood in Eastern Germany. Now, this book is special in the sense that I actually know the author. He and his wife are friends of my parents, I have spent time with them in New York and will actually be seeing them this Saturday (the knowledge of which inspired me to finally pick up his book in the first place). So what does this mean? I am not quite sure, maybe that I was positively disproposed towards the book, maybe that I wouldn't have been as critical as necessary if I wouldn't have liked it? I have no idea.

Good news first, I really liked this book. I finished it today in 3-4 hour reading session and spent 30 minutes on the internet afterwards trying to find out more about some of the (real-life) characters. Joel is the son of James Agee (quite the famous writer to have as a father, not very relevant for the rest of his story though) and Alma Mailman/Agee/Uhse. His mom went to Mexico with him where she married a German communist and writer, Bodo Uhse (who himself has an interesting life-story, being a left-wing Nazi in the 1920s only to become a communist in the 30s). The Uhse family (sorry all you label-centered feminists) then moved to the Soviet-occupied zone in 1948. In his novel, Joel, more or less liberally, recounts his years in Germany, the German Democratic Republic actually. Some of it is very personal and in that sense not related neither to the time-period nor the geographic location, his first sexual experiences and his difficulties with them, but also his driftlessness, his lack of direction, of application. Other parts are more directly connected to his unique position an American Jew growing up in Germany in the 1950s, the rigid party rule, the blind obedience for which Germans then (and now) are famous for.

I really liked this book, I can only recommend it to all of you. Especially maybe people that know Germany but don't come from here or at least have managed to gain some kind of an outsider's perspective on it.

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