Customer Reviews

8
4.3 out of 5 stars
5 star
4
4 star
2
3 star
2
2 star
0
1 star
0
Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman
Format: PaperbackChange
Price:£9.99+Free shipping with Amazon Prime
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 24 September 2010
`Portrait of a Mother as a Young Woman' sounds intimidating before you start it as the book is one long sentence which instantly filled me with dread. I don't like it when a book does this for a few pages let alone a whole novella. However whether its down to the original, the editing or the translation (without reading the original in German I would never know - something I always think of when reading translations `was it this good originally, was it worse, was it better?') it was a fear that proved unfounded as there are natural breaks in the pattern of the narrative.

Our protagonist is the woman of the title; we meet her during the war in 1943 as a young pregnant German woman residing in Rome while her husband is in army service in Africa. After doctors orders she is walking through the city from her guest house to the church. Initially she simply observes the city and looks back on how her relationship with Gert started and then starts to worry about the future, will her husband be safe, what world will her unborn child be born into? Normally a woman who believes that the almighty is powering and behind everything, worrying doubts are setting in her mind.

There is little more to the story than the way in which her thoughts progress as she wanders, you are simply privy to the internal workings and machinations of this woman's thoughts. Yet this is not a book about plot, this is a book about time and place and Delius, through his portrait of this young woman, sets the time, place and surreal atmosphere in a city untouched by war yet very much feeling its effects (such as the coffee shortage - how did Italians cope with that?) now and again and forcing the reality of the situation into peoples minds when sometimes they forget.

The writing is simply stunning. Delius paints a vivid picture and an incredibly believable woman's narrative voice, though the book isn't in first person the flow of it and structure of a single sentence makes it feel like subconscious and very natural train of thought. Rome is painted vividly, I have never been and yet now feel I have walked those streets in that time period. In fact I feel I have walked those streets as that woman so vivid is the picture Delius creates.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 4 September 2010
This enthralling story centres around a single afternoon in January 1943.

A heavily pregnant young woman is in the "eternal city" of Rome. We learn that she is German and is residing in the capital because her husband has returned from the war due to a leg injury. Cruelly, they have been only been together for a couple of days, when Gert is recalled to serve in Africa, following Germany's defeat at El Alamein.

The young woman is on her way to the Lutheran church to attend a Bach concert. Her bewilderment and sadness is palpable, as she tries to make sense of her situation and the strangeness of Germany's presence in their ally's country. It seems like an "occupation" rather than an invitation from willing hosts. There is a "protocol" which this young woman fails to grasp. Even the unfamiliar statues and artwork confuse her, and she longs for her husband's knowledge and company. Her whole life has been influenced by the Protestant Church, reinforced by her husband's calling as a minister. This also sits uncomfortably within the very centre of the Catholic church in Rome.

What persists throughout the narrative, unusual and compelling in it's single 117 page sentence,is her innocence,her utter belief that God will prevail and a sense that if she chooses not to confront her fears.......they will never come to be. I found this deeply moving. Her whole being is concerned with the baby she is carrying and the hope that child will bring. As the music of the concert swells and unites Germans and Italians, Protestants and Catholics alike and her tears flow freely.....yes there has to be hope......for what is left in this confusing and damaged world?

Another little masterpice from Peirene.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman, is simple in concept, being an account of a young woman's walk to church from her home in a guest room of an old-people's home in Rome (which is run by Protestant nuns). The year is 1943, and the young woman is German, her husband a young ordinand who despite an earlier injury to his leg, has been sent to support the German army in their campaign in Tunisia.

The woman is heavily pregnant with only a month to go before the baby is due, and as she walks through the city we read of her thoughts on love, war and the German cause, while she also notices the beautiful surroundings as she passes the landmarks of Rome - which Delius describes in such detail that it is tempting to get on a plane and fly out to see them for yourself.

The novel consists of a single sentence extended over its 117 pages. But this does not make the book difficult to read because the text is broken up into paragraphs, and the technique preserves the flow of the woman's thoughts over the hour of her walk.

Delius captures the naivety of a young woman brought up under the Nazi regime. She finds it hard to accept that Germany is no longer sweeping to victory. Stalingrad has passed, as has Alamein, and the thought is beginning to dawn on her that ultimate victory is no longer assured.

At first glance, the novel feels like a simple read, but it has many subtleties which tackle the dilemma of how "ordinary" Germans could support such a disastrous regime. Delius has captured the woman's confusion in trying to integrate two competing philosophies in her mind. On the one hand she is typically patriotic,with even the thought of German defeat seeming like a vile heresy that cannot be uttered. But she also has a strong, if naive, Christian faith, but this seems to be mixed up with powerful nationalistic feelings, no doubt instilled in her while she was in the League of German Maidens.

This is a snapshot of a single day but Delius shows terrible storm-clouds gathering over the beauty of Rome with the approaching thunder almost drowning out the magnificent music in the church. From this description of a single day, we can tell what the end will be, and it will not be good.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This is the third title from Peirene Press who launched this year publishing thought-provoking short novels of contemporary European literature in luxury paperback editions.

Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman, appears rather daunting at first glance for the whole novel is written in just one 117 page long sentence, but once you start reading you soon realise that this is only due to the lack of full stops, for there are other punctuation marks and paragraphs - so don't let that worry you, let me tell you a little about the story instead ...

It is January 1943, and a young German woman in Rome is on her way to a Bach concert. The woman is heavily pregnant with her first child, and is missing her husband who is on active service in Africa. She walks through the streets of the Eternal City from her accommodation to the church, a stroll of an hour or so across Rome, and we go with her - in her head.

We see what she sees, we hear what she hears, and we know what she thinks. All her hopes, fears and memories are laid bare for us in that single sentence which contains all her thoughts. Sometimes musing on the buildings she walks past, other times remembering her courtship with Gert, a preacher who has had to become a soldier, feeling her baby stir within her belly, and always wishing to see Gert again soon. She is uneducated and naive, an innocent abroad, in Rome to be with Gert who then got redeployed leaving her stranded amongst a nation so foreign to her. She lives as a guest in an old people's home run by nuns, she tries to be close to God but is also desperate to be a good German, although she is confused by the Fuhrer who seems to want to replace God. She doesn't dwell long on things, her thoughts flit here and there, but they do keep returning to her husband, her God and her country, and we gradually build up a complete picture of her life.

Of Peirene's three books so far I liked No 2, Stone in a Landslide the best, but No3 is indeed a charming portrait of a young woman in troubled times that flows by and beguiles you, while letting you sense that a happy ending to her story is unlikely.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A novel in a single sentence. That was what intrigued me about this book. It turns out, however, that it's not really a single sentence. I mean, it's true that there are no full-stops, but the sentence doesn't really run on continuously for the whole book. In some places it does, but in many others the sentence basically ends, and the author goes on to a new thought in a new paragraph, just using a comma instead of a full-stop. The whole one-sentence thing quite quickly began to feel like a bit of a cheat.

But as I read the book more, the style grew on me. I began to think about why he had written it in this way, and realised it's not just a gimmick - it's a clever reflection of the way we think. The whole book is an interior monologue of a woman walking to church one day in 1943, and her thoughts meander around between present and past with a mesmerising fluidity. And this, really, is how we think when we're just walking along letting our thoughts wander. I went for a long walk on Hampstead Heath recently and did exactly the same thing. There was no break between the thoughts, no division between one thing and the next. Past, present and future all merged in my head, and I went from one thing to the next without a break or logical transition.

By the end of the book I was convinced that writing in a single sentence was an effective way of communicating this fluidity of thought processes. It's true that it's not technically a single sentence, but I suppose the only way to write for 125 pages in a single sentence would be to clutter up the book with a whole lot of ugly conjunctions. Maybe just having a comma and moving on to the next thing was the best way to do it.

The character interested me as well. She is very young, very innocent, very trusting, quite careful to avoid thinking about things she doesn't understand or want to think about, quite happy to trust in God or her husband or some other authority to work things out for her. She is wary of her friend Ilse, who raises uncomfortable questions such as why it was necessary to hate the British and Americans - just the question itself makes her feel "guilty, confused and horrified" and she decides to distance herself from Ilse or "at the very least stop getting into discussions with her". Another revealing passage, after saying she needed to discuss "her Jewish thoughts" with Gert:

"On her own she could not work out what you were allowed and not allowed to say, what you should think and what you ought not to think, and how to cope with her ambivalent feelings, all she could do was to keep these things to herself until his return"

There is a clear link between her religion and subservience - for her, religion is about faith to the point of fatalism, accepting God's will and not questioning anything, the effort "to bring your own will into harmony with the will of God, and thereby find the greatest freedom in obedience".

It's clear to see how this young woman, clearly a good person with a kind heart, would fall perfectly into line with the crimes of the Nazi government. By doing good she would be complicit in evil. It's a very compelling characterisation. This is the third book published by Peirene Press, and all three have been of a very high standard. Personally I'd recommend Beside the Sea as my favourite, but this book is also well worth a read.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
on 16 November 2012
Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman is the third and final book in the Peirene Press series entitled Female Voices. It's an unusually structured book that takes the reader into the mind of Margarethe, a twenty-one year old German woman living in Rome in 1943, who is walking from the boarding house where she lives to a Bach concert being held at the church on Via Sicilia. Having followed her husband to Rome only to see him shipped off to Africa to help the war effort, Margarethe is alone and eight months pregnant. She speaks little Italian and is both mystified by and scared of Rome, the city of their Italian allies. As we follow Margarethe on her walk, we get an insight into her thought processes and get to see World War Two through a new lens.

I liked this book. I found the structure difficult at first; the book is basically one long sentence with no full stops or page breaks and this was challenging for me. I didn't know when to put the book down and the lack of punctuation made the novella feel longer than it was. The pace was also fairly slow towards the beginning and these two factors combined made reading heavy going initially. But as soon as I settled into the book and saw it for what it was, a character driven novel, I started to enjoy it. The pace is slow but this allows the character to get really under your skin and this is how Portrait of the Mother is effective.

I had mixed feelings about the main character, Margarethe. She was expertly written and I'm in awe at how the male author managed to get so into the mind of a young, pregnant woman. On the one hand I couldn't help but empathise with her situation, alone and unsure in a foreign city, struggling to keep her composure. I admired how she constantly battled to remain positive, to appreciate all she had rather than give in to fear, because I don't know if I could do the same. You can't help but feel sorry for her when you read about her wishing that her husband's leg wound would worsen so he could have treatment at a Roman hospital and they could be reunited. But at the same time, I found her very naive. To protect herself she has drawn a shell around herself and tries not to think of politics and the war. Although she never articulates it fully, her views from her time in the Hitler Youth contradict with her religious views and she has severe doubts about the directions Hitler is taking. But she does nothing, she has completely detached herself;

"Even in Germany she had not read the papers, it was better not to know too much, not to say too much, not to ask too much, as one always heard bad news soon enough."

There must have been many people like Margarethe but this side of her made me have very mixed feelings towards her. I suspect this is what Delius intended and that this is part of what makes the book so effective, but it challenges you as a reader. To empathise and not at the same time. After finishing this book, I'm still not quite sure what I think about the main character.

Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman is the Peirene book that I've found the hardest going so far, mainly because of the structure. It's without a doubt beautifully written and thought-provoking but I don't know if I would describe reading it as an enjoyable experience.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
on 12 December 2012
Did not find it particularly moving. Very well written particularly if one knew Rome and could follow her through to the
Lutheran Church by the very good verbal map. I would be unlikely to say to any of my friends that they really must read it.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
on 25 January 2015
Delightful.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
     
 
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
The Mussel Feast
The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke (Paperback - 1 Feb. 2013)
£10.00

The Murder of Halland
The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul (Paperback - 1 Jun. 2012)
£10.00

Beside the Sea
Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi (Paperback - 13 Jan. 2010)
£8.99
 
     

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.