Motherland

Motherland

4.2 8
by Maria Hummel
     
 

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Motherland is inspired by stories from author Maria Hummel’s father and his German childhood, and letters between her grandparents that were hidden in an attic wall for fifty years. It is the author’s attempt to reckon with the paradox of her father—a product of her grandparents’ fiercely protective love and their status asSee more details below

Overview


Motherland is inspired by stories from author Maria Hummel’s father and his German childhood, and letters between her grandparents that were hidden in an attic wall for fifty years. It is the author’s attempt to reckon with the paradox of her father—a product of her grandparents’ fiercely protective love and their status as Mitläufer, Germans who “went along” with Nazism, reaping its benefits and later paying the consequences.

At the center of Motherland lies the Kappus family: Frank is a reconstructive surgeon who lost his beloved wife in childbirth and two months later marries a young woman charged with looking after the surviving baby and his two grieving sons when Frank is drafted into medical military service. Alone in the house, Liesl attempts to keep the children fed with dwindling food supplies, safe from the constant Allied air attacks and the tides of desperate refugees flooding their town. When one child begins to mentally unravel, Liesl must discover the source of the boy’s infirmity or lose him forever to Hadamar, the infamous hospital for “unfit” children. The novel bears witness to the shame and courage of Third Reich families during the devastating final days of the war, as each family member’s fateful choice lead the reader deeper into questions of complicity and innocence, to the novel’s heartbreaking and unforgettable conclusion.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 10/21/2013
Fear, grief, and the will to survive fuse in this beautiful novel about the inner life of a German family in the final months of World War II. Inspired by letters written by Hummel’s (House and Fire) paternal grandparents and her father’s childhood in a war-torn Germany, Motherland occupies a relatively unexplored space in World War II literature, in which political sympathies and oppositions are vastly less important than finding enough tinder to keep the children warm or figuring out when to take an ailing child to the doctor. When Dr. Frank Kappus, a widower, is drafted into medical military service, he leaves behind his three sons with their brand new stepmother, Liesl. She does everything within her power to nurture the two grieving boys and the infant now in her care, including stretching their meager rations into filling meals and assuaging their fears of Allied bombings. The job becomes drastically more difficult when two refugee families are moved into the family’s house and six-year-old Ani’s constant stomachaches turn into something far more serious. Frank, working as a reconstructive surgeon 250 km away, is confronted daily with horrific battlefield injuries. The humiliations and guilt that each family member endures for the others are described with grace and humanity in this absorbing story. While stunningly intimate, Motherland is expansive in feeling and scope. Extending beyond a simple historical drama, this book is a reminder of the reach of love, how it can blind, and how it can heal. Agent: Gail Hochman, Brandt & Hochman Literary. (Jan.)
From the Publisher

Praise for Motherland

“This is a tender, profound novel of a young woman who steps into a shattered German family and makes it her own. The radiance of her sacrifice, and of Hummel's storytelling, illuminates this dark chapter of human history with heart and revelation.” —Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master’s Son, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

“In stunning, pitch-perfect prose, Maria Hummel gives us a deeply moving portrait of lives on the wrong side of history. This isn't just another World War II novel; it's a spectacular story about what it means to love and hope in the most difficult times.” —Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones, Winner of the National Book Award

“Through the intimate story of one German family at the end of the Second World War, Motherland weaves a universal tale of moral obligation, wartime complicity, and the lengths we will go to protect those we love. From the bare bones of her own family's history, Maria Hummel has built a visceral, magnificent creature.” —Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

“Hummel’s haunting novel is set in the ravaged landscape of German just before the country’s collapse at the end of World War II…Searing and honest, her book illuminates the reality of war away from the front lines —betrayal and compromise, neighbor turning on neighbor, the unexpected heroism of ordinary people — with a compassion and depth of understanding that will touch your heart.” —People Magazine, Four Stars

“Maria Hummel draws upon her family history to create a spellbinding novel that examines the many facets of motherhood, during a time of war and beyond. Motherland is a vivid, heart-stopping depiction of a German family's struggle to stay together during the devastating Allied bombing of their small town. You won’t soon forget these characters or the stories they have to tell." —Susan Sherman, The Little Russian

“A courageous and unsettling novel arising from the questions that Maria Hummel had about her grandparents’ lives during the Third Reich. How much did they know? How did they survive?” —Ursula Hegi, Stones from the River

“Fear, grief, and the will to survive fuse in this beautiful novel about the inner life of a German family in the final months of World War II… The humiliations and guilt that each family member endures for the others are described with grace and humanity. While stunningly intimate, Motherland is expansive in feeling and scope. Extending beyond a simple historical drama, this book is a reminder of the reach of love, how it can blind, and how it can heal.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“In prose that is both spare and heavily laden with the exhausted emotion of hard living, Hummel maintains a claustrophobic undercurrent of fear even when describing mundane daily tasks. Dark and uncompromising, Motherland illuminates a little-examined aspect of the war.” —Booklist

“These characters appear to have, at best, blinders on and, at worse, to be in denial about the fate of their missing Jewish neighbors and what is actually going on at camps like Buchenwald. However, these all-too-human failings are so honestly rendered that a stark question emerges: Who among us, faced with similar circumstances, would have acted differently? Heart-rending and chilling.” —Kirkus, Starred Review

“Hummel gathered her raw material from the life of her grandfather, reflected in letters written during the war and discovered in an attic wall. Just as Londoners suffered under the Blitz, German citizens spent the last year of the war living as no human being should, amid the horrors of daily air raids and the loss of those they loved. Hummel somehow manages, without sensationalism, to drive home the humanity and suffering of the people who are frequently considered only as the enemy. Without canceling out our sympathy for those targeted by the Nazis, this humane and compelling story may extend it to those who (often unwittingly) assisted in some of humanity's worst crimes—and who themselves got flicked by the tail of the beast.” —BookPage

“Motherland is a moving tale of hope, compassion, and the lengths we go to for the ones we love. Petition your book club to add it to the roster.” —PureWow.com

"Hummel's focus on the concrete, physical experiences of one family is a fine, brave antidote to abstraction, and does what good historical fiction does best: explores what has passed in those undocumented rests between the things we know to be true." —San Francisco Chronicle,

“Inspired by letters between her paternal grandparents towards the end of the Second World War, Motherland explores love through the unfamiliar lens of Nazi sympathizers. Romantic endeavors during wartime are not unusual by any means, but rarely are we given the chance to make sense of, and furthermore, sympathize with, a love between those finding themselves on the wrong side of history... Like Sebastian Faulk’s Birdsong, Motherland is more than a story of separated lovers — it charts, with great poise and more than a little poetry, the challenges of a time when allegiances, to one side or the other, were both necessary and potentially disastrous.” ——Bustle,

“…deeply researched, painstakingly written, and, above all, heartfelt.” ——New York Times Book Review,

Praise for Wilderness Run

“A gripping debut, shot through with poetry and violence, Wilderness Run traces the demons that divide us, whether as a nation or in our hearts. At turns radiant and shocking, understated and unbearable, Wilderness Run proceeds with the force of a coming locomotive.” —Nick Flynn author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City

“A gifted poet has immersed herself in the history of her home territory to write a mesmerizing first novel.” —David Huddle, author of The Story of a Million Years

“…Visceral..fascinating..an utterly devourable historical novel.” —The Los Angeles Times

“…gracefully and evocatively written…Hummel creates solid characters while capturing the day-to-day reality of military life during the Civil War, and her well-paced, elegant prose turns especially poignant at the end… Hummel is a solid writer who inserts enough intriguing turns in her narrative to keep things interesting.” —Publishers Weekly

“This carefully wrought historical novel is rich in period detail that Civil War scholars will certainly appreciate, while its appropriately tragic romance will appeal to those looking for an absorbing read.” —Booklist

“Hummel's language is lyrical and vivid, and her portrayal of the everyday life of the Lindsey family and of Laurence's regiment is detailed and realistic.” —Library Journal

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-10-20
Inspired by family letters, Hummel chronicles the existence of an ordinary middle-class German family in the waning days of the Third Reich. Any author writing about German life during the Nazi regime has one primary challenge: how to address the Holocaust. Or, as Hummel succinctly puts it in her afterword, "What did [my characters] know and when did they know it?" She has opted not to use hindsight to impute either heroic resistance or conscious complicity to her characters. The two principal narrators are Liesl, a kindergarten teacher at a medical spa in the remote town of Hannesburg, and her husband, Frank, a surgeon who married Liesl in haste--mainly since she is good with children--after his first wife died giving birth to son Jürgen. Frank is called to a military hospital in Weimar, where he works as a reconstructive surgeon, repairing horrific battle scars and studying new skin-graft techniques. When a guard from nearby Buchenwald presents symptoms of typhus, Frank is too overworked to ponder conditions at what he thinks is a prison camp for criminals. Back home, Liesl, who once revered Hitler but by now is disillusioned, is preoccupied with keeping her new family fed and safe. Two refugee families are billeted in her house; her oldest son, Hans, is a budding black marketeer; baby Jürgen has a fever; and middle son Anselm has somehow contracted lead poisoning. The Nazi doctor she consults threatens to send "Ani" to the notorious Hadamar asylum if he does not improve. In desperation, she writes to Frank in code, asking him to desert and come home. These characters appear to have, at best, blinders on and, at worse, to be in denial about the fate of their missing Jewish neighbors and what is actually going on at camps like Buchenwald. However, these all-too-human failings are so honestly rendered that a stark question emerges: Who among us, faced with similar circumstances, would have acted differently? Heart-rending and chilling.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781619022379
Publisher:
Counterpoint Press
Publication date:
01/14/2014
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
726,180
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

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