The Blindness of the Heart

The Blindness of the Heart

3.0 10
by Julia Franck
     
 

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An international best seller and winner of the German Book Prize, The Blindness of the Heart is a dark marvel of a novel by one of Europe’s freshest young voices—a family story spanning two world wars and several generations in a German family. In the devastating opening scene, a woman named Helene stands with her seven-year-old son in a

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Overview

An international best seller and winner of the German Book Prize, The Blindness of the Heart is a dark marvel of a novel by one of Europe’s freshest young voices—a family story spanning two world wars and several generations in a German family. In the devastating opening scene, a woman named Helene stands with her seven-year-old son in a provincial German railway station in 1945, amid the chaos of civilians fleeing west. Having survived with him through the horror and deprivation of the war years, she abandons him on the station platform and never returns.

The story quickly circles back to rural Germany and Helene’s childhood, which came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of the First World War. Her father is sent to the eastern front, and her Jewish mother withdraws from the hostility of her surroundings into a state of mental confusion. As we follow Helene into adulthood, we watch riveted as the costs of survival and ill-fated love turn her into a woman capable of the unforgiveable.

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Editorial Reviews

Liesl Schillinger
Travel back to another era, to another sensibility, to an age when fantasy and nightmare mingled in the air with the scent of lime blossom, when survival would soon come to depend on the capacity for selective forgetting. With her enthralling, richly imagined and remorseless novel, The Blindness of the Heart, Julia Franck…emerges on the literary stage with a work reminiscent of some grand regional forebears. Winner of the 2007 German Book Prize, her novel brings together the haunting folk echoes of Dinesen's Winter's Tales, the visual immediacy of Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin, the narrative cohesion of Mann's Buddenbrooks.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Why would a mother abandon her seven-year-old son at a train station in 1945 Germany just as the fighting ends? In her powerful first novel to be translated into English, Franck poses the question before tracking back to the woman's WWI childhood. As the story progresses from one war to the next, Franck wrestles with a much broader question--why did so many Germans appear blind to the horrors on their horizon? Helene is the younger of two daughters of an Aryan father who survives the battlefield to die a pitiful death at home, and a Jewish mother who is something of a 20th-century Cassandra. The sisters flee rural life (and their mother) and are taken in by a relative in Berlin, where they are engulfed by the city's interwar debauchery. But as the economy deteriorates and the political situation heats up, Helene and her sister make do with fewer resources and dwindling freedoms. Helene finds love with a Jewish philosophy student, but succumbs, after a cruel twist, to another, colder man. Franck's insights are profound and alarming, and her storytelling makes the familiar material read fresh. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

“Travel back to another era, to another sensibility, to an age when fantasy and nightmare mingled in the air with the scent of lime blossom, when survival would soon come to depend on the capacity for selective forgetting. . . . With her enthralling, richly imagined and remorseless novel . . . Franck emerges on the literary stage with a work . . . [that] brings together the haunting folk echoes of Dinesen’s Winter’s Tales, the visual immediacy of Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin, the narrative cohesion of Mann’s Buddenbrooks.”—The New York Times Book Review

"Spellbinding . . . The young woman at the center of Julia Franck’s acclaimed novel The Blindness of the Heart ranks among the most haunting characters to be found in European fiction about twentieth-century horrors. . . . At times, the novel feels more like an eyewitness account than historical fiction.”—Vogue

“A devastating novel about war, love, and the art of survival.”—Marie Claire

"A psychologically acute addition to the literature of Germany’s downfall . . . Fine, disturbing, memorable work.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“In her powerful first novel to be translated into English . . . Franck wrestles with [the] question, why did so many Germans appear blind to the horrors on their horizon [at the start of WWII]? . . . Franck’s insights are profound and alarming, and her storytelling makes the familiar material read fresh.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Franck’s description of Helene’s desperate loneliness cuts to the bone with devastating effect. . . . Helene’s heart is not blind; it’s numb. The novel is not a justification of her actions, but something more complex—a portrait of the unheroic but human need for escape.”—Barnes & Noble Review

“Winner of the German Book Prize . . . this is a great, big silence-breaker of a novel, a laser beam into the German darkness from a writer, one feels, has a great deal more to say.”—Evening Standard (UK)

“Disturbing, original and brilliant.”—A. S. Byatt, The Guardian (Best Books of 2009)

“An excellent evocation of life among ‘ordinary’ Germans during the first half of the 20th century . . . Beautiful . . . Devastating.”—The Washington Times

“One of the most haunting works I have ever read about twentieth-century Germany . . . The book’s moral perspective is faultless, as is Franck’s sensitivity to character, sexuality and the struggle to be a free woman in a fascist society. . . . The Blind Side of the Heart is a masterpiece.”—The Independent

“Although squarely within the venerable genre of the German multigenerational novel, this selection is both more astute and more subtle than most realist works addressing Germany’s twentieth-century ‘blindness of the heart.’ [The Blindness of the Heart] will show U.S. audiences why Franck deserves all of the praise she is getting abroad.”—Booklist (starred review)

“A rich, moving, and complex novel . . . A brief summary cannot do justice to the penetrating imagination of this book, to the author’s certainty of tone and to the wealth of significant detail she provides. [Julia Franck] offers a panorama of a society stumbling blindfolded towards disaster.”—The Scotsman

“Powerful . . . Gripping . . . A compelling narrative and solid writing.”—Library Journal

“The most astounding piece of storytelling of the season . . . The way Julia Franck weaves together stories from the emotional depths and interactions and unpacks them again with an almost joyful thoroughness is exhilarating.”—Der Spiegel (Germany)

“Winner of the major German literary award . . . Franck’s bold, often shocking family saga is fearless. . . . There is a relentless sense of purpose about the complex, ever-shifting narrative that continually tests the reader.”—The Irish Times

The Blindness of the Heart is nothing short of a masterpiece. The novel is epic in it proportions and tells the story of two World Wars and the consequences, loneliness and despair that result from a series of hardships.”—Aesthetica Magazine (UK)

“This novel has everything it needs: talent and skill and something to say. It is hot and cold, cruel and idyllic, sensual and sober.”—Die Zeit (Germany)

Library Journal
This powerful novel opens with Helene, a nurse in Germany throughout World War II, abandoning her seven-year-old son at a train station at the end of the war; the following chapters detail how she came to this point. Faced with the countless horrors of war, we realize, it is sometimes easier to care for strangers than for one's own son. Like the German people collectively during this time and like her Jewish mother before her, Helene is emotionally blinded by her own pain. Franck's writing is deliberately understated, deadened emotionally to reflect the state of the characters. Events are flatly reported without exploring their impact, and what is not said weighs heavily on the narrative. VERDICT Not surprisingly, this book won the German Book Prize and has received international acclaim. Book groups will find plenty to discuss in this gripping novel, but it is not for the fainthearted or anyone who needs books to end on a happy note. There are no easy answers or pat resolutions in this dark novel, just a compelling narrative and solid writing.—Gwen Vredevoogd, Marymount Univ., Arlington, VA
Kirkus Reviews

Darkness engulfs a family and a nation, in a psychologically acute addition to the literature of Germany's downfall; the book was an international bestseller and won the German Book Prize.

In her first work of fiction to be translated into English, Franck combines an intense female perspective with the ability to spotlight scenes of domestic unhappiness and hectic urban decadence in memorable detail. Her central character, Helene Würsich, is the daughter of a printer who returns maimed and ruined from the battlefields of World War I, leaving Helene and her older sister Martha in the power of their mentally unstable mother Selma, "the foreign woman"—meaning Jewish, in the disapproving view of the local community. Martha, a nurse, develops a taste for drugs while clever but introverted Helen, unsympathetically treated by Selma, never fulfills her potential. A legacy saves the family's fortunes, the girls move to Berlin to live with a racy aunt and Helene falls in love with a student, only to lose him. As the political mood darkens and Selma is incarcerated for possible hereditary disorders, Helene's future is shaped by another man, Wilhelm, a keen supporter of the new regime who nevertheless agrees to risk "racial disgrace" and arrange false papers certifying her Aryan descent. But their marriage brings no happiness and a prologue and epilogue expose the emotional damage arising from a long sequence of disasters.

Franck's impressionistic style and empathy encourage fresh responses to familiar subject matter—fine, disturbing, memorable work.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781410436399
Publisher:
Gale Group
Publication date:
04/01/2011
Edition description:
Large Print
Pages:
642
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.40(d)

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