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Saturday, 15 October 2011

Child of All Nations by Irmgard Keun

This is going to be one of those reviews where I kind of wish that I could say more about what I've read than I actually will do. I want to say that I have a lot to talk about here, but I have a feeling that I may struggle.

Child of All Nations focuses on Kully, a 9-year-old German girl, in the years leading up to World War II. Her father is a writer who can't stay in Germany because he has written anti-German/anti-Nazi pieces, thus forcing him and his family to travel around Europe, only staying in one country for as long as their visas last for. That is pretty much the plot in its entirety. Their brief stays in any one country is characterised by this basic chain of events: enter new country, stay in fancy hotel, run out of money, father leaves Kully and her mother to earn money, rinse and repeat. This process is shown through what are essentially anecdotes of Kully's experiences. As plots go, I've read many that were more engaging. Fittingly enough, the ending is very open-ended and kind of fades out instead of ending on a clear resolution; especially apt considering that this was written in 1938, the year before the war started. For me, I wasn't overly fond of the plot itself; the repetitiveness started grating quite quickly, for one reason: the father.
So, why is the focus of my irritation embodied by the father? The stupid moves that he just keeps doing that make things intensely difficult for him and his family. Let's be clear here: Kully's family has no money. So where does the father get them to stay? In a fancy hotel. How do they travel? First class. What does he end up doing most of the time that we as readers see him? Drinking near constantly and lending other people money that he doesn't have, instead of writing and actually earning money. It just grates on me that Kully and her mother have to travel and live in uncertainty because of this irresponsible twit, especially in moments like when Kully's mother finds a house to rent and a lifestyle that will actually conserve money. I appreciate that he's been forced into that situation by an incredibly intolerant government, but there's still a limit on how much slack I can give him before I feel the urge to smack him. The other main characters, Kully and her mother are more tolerable. Her mother is especially sympathetic, as she has to cope with bringing up her child away from an education and a stable home, along with the knowledge that every time her husband leaves to earn money she and Kully have to stay at the hotel, essentially as insurance. As for Kully, she is pleasant enough; I mentioned this in my review of Room, but I'll say it again: I'm not fond of child narrators. To be fair, Kully is older than Jack was, making this slightly less frustrating, but I would again have been much more interested in hearing the story from the mother's point of view, as there was so much more character depth hinted at with her. If I'm totally honest, the main thing making me finish this was a sort of curiosity, as opposed to actual emotional attachment, which disappoints me.

At first I was looking forward to reading this, as the concept seemed really interesting and ripe with potential plot-lines. In my mind, that potential was kind of wasted, as nothing seems to have changed by the end. I don't want to finish reading a book feeling like the experience as a whole has been largely futile. 3/5

Next review: Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

Signing off,

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