- Paperback: 512 pages
- Publisher: Harcourt Paperbacks (1 April 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0156011662
- ISBN-13: 978-0156011662
- Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 3.1 x 22.9 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 765,147 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
She comes from Mecklenburg, a province on Germany's Baltic coast. She was born on the weekend when the Nazis came to power in 1933 (echoes of The Tin Drum, except Gesine grew up). She grew up during the Nazi dictatorship, then the communist dictatorship. Somehow, she escaped from East Germany through Czechoslovakia and Frankfurt to reach her permanent residence in New York.
Her thoughts (sometimes they are clearly diary entries, other times they seem more glimpses into her consciousness) take us through several points in 20th-century German history. We see the land-baron Junker society of eastern Germany, tottering amid worker and farmer uprisings in the desperate years after World War I; her father gets caught in the struggles between socialists, communists and nationalists as the Nazis take power; religious figures suffer in the lawless Hitler regime.
At the same time, she observes her surroundings sharply: the upper West Side neighborhood in which she lives, the daily dispatches of America's Vietnam involvement, courtesy of that "friendly aunt, the New York Times," her ambivalent quasi-romantic involvement with alcoholic weapons engineer "D.E." The English title is slightly misleading: Gesine Cresspahl relates stories relevant to her life each particular day, rather than stories of what happened on each day in history. "Days of the Year" would be a better translation than "Anniversaries."
I read the first of the four "deliveries" of this novel on the recommendation of a German in-law; he said he thought it the most engrossing work he's read. I agree: the descriptions of the long-gone pre-1945 German society are fascinating, and Gesine is a striking narrator, as much for what she tells you about herself and her observations as what she does not. I read it very slowly (in German, 6 pages a night with my dictionary beside me), and never felt like giving up. Having finished volume one, I intend to continue my slow march through the 1,200 other pages to find out how Gesine left the Democratic Republic and to see if we find out anything more about Jacob, the mysterious father of her child.
The style is very down-to-earth. While Johnson (like Grass) may be trying to tell us something deeper about how Germans should handle their intimidating history, the message is subtle and not given at the expense of the interest in sheer narration.
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