Child of All Nations

Overview

"A delicious novel about an irreverent thirteen year old, Child of All Nations smokes and so does its heroine."-Erica Jong

Kully knows some things you don't learn at school, from the right way to roll a cigarette to how to pack a suitcase. She knows that you can't enter a country without a passport or visa, and that she and her parents can't go back to Germany again-her father's books are banned there. Her mother would just like to settle down, but as her restless father ...

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Child of All Nations

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Overview

"A delicious novel about an irreverent thirteen year old, Child of All Nations smokes and so does its heroine."-Erica Jong

Kully knows some things you don't learn at school, from the right way to roll a cigarette to how to pack a suitcase. She knows that you can't enter a country without a passport or visa, and that she and her parents can't go back to Germany again-her father's books are banned there. Her mother would just like to settle down, but as her restless father struggles to find a new publisher, the three must escape from country to country as their visas expire, money runs out and hotel bills mount up.

In this utterly enchanting novel, some of the great themes of 1930s Europe are refracted through the eyes of a child who is both naive and wise beyond her years. Irrepressible Kully, her charming, feckless father and her nervy, fragile mother are brought to life through Irmgard Keun's fastpaced prose.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

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.)

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Kirkus Reviews
An utterly compelling look at pre-World War II Germany, first published in 1938 and available in English for the first time. Keun was born in Berlin in 1905. She achieved critical success with the novels Gilgi-One of Us (1931) and The Artificial Silk Girl (1932). Her witty, candid portraits of Weimar Germany were banned by the Nazis, and she spent several years in exile. This book provides a child's-eye view of Europe on the brink of World War II. Keun's young narrator, Kully, is a refugee, and she offers a succinct explanation for her family's exodus from Germany: Her father is a writer, but the government will no longer allow him to write the things he wants to write. "When I was in Germany, before, I did go to school, and that's where I learned to read and write . . . ," she says. "I wonder what the point is of children in Germany still having to learn to read and write?" This philosophical query-naive, incisive, funny-is typical of Kully. Keun has no illusions about the innocence or unknowingness of children. Kully is one of literature's great child narrators, and her creator manages to generate pathos without resorting to melodrama or sentimental exaggeration. Hofmann's unadorned translation enlivens the work. Poignant, especially for contemporary readers who know that far greater horrors were still to come.
The Barnes & Noble Review
You don't expect a novel about a family tramping around pre–World War II Europe to hold you in its grip so tight that you read the entire book in one sitting. But that's exactly what Irmgard Keun's Child of All Nations does, thanks to the shrewd voice of its narrator, a ten-year-old girl named Kully who coolly endures being dragged from country to country by her neurotic mother and ne'er-do-well writer father, who's turned his back on Nazi Germany. Keun, whose books were banned by the Nazis, is bound to be resurrected from obscurity by this 1938 novel, now getting its first English translation by Michael Hofmann. Written before the full onslaught of the Holocaust, the book treats war as dark background scenery and focuses instead on the family's plight -- a struggle that keeps them barely one step ahead of poverty, creditors, and starvation. Kully's insights into her world are simple but profound: "My throat felt like an endless tube full of hunger." Or consider her perspective on international politics: "The world has grown dark, because of rain and war.... War is something that comes and makes everything dead. Then there'll be nowhere left for me to play, and bombs will keep falling on my head." Kully is a captivating character, and even in the face of misery, she's often very funny: "I'm not sure whether I don't understand grown-ups, or if they're just too stupid for words." This, however, is a novel that's smart beyond its years. --David Abrams
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590203019
  • Publisher: Overlook Press, The
  • Publication date: 3/30/2010
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 1,386,129
  • Product dimensions: 4.80 (w) x 7.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Irmgard Keun was born in Berlin in 1905. She began to write in 1929 and found instant success with her early novels, which were blacklisted by the Nazis for their "immoral" depictions of the Modern Young Woman. From 1936 to 1938 she traveled through Europe with the writer Joseph Roth and published several novels, including Child of All Nations in 1938.
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