Nothing But Fear by Knud Romer and John Mason (translator)
|Nothing But Fear by Knud Romer and John Mason (translator)|
|Genre: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: This is a wonderful condensed gem of a book, bursting with colourful characters from both sides of Knud Romer's Danish/German family. Extending from pre-World War II to Knud's childhood in 1960s Denmark, he shows that war doesn't end with a signed document; sometimes human hatred and national damage are more enduring than politics.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 192||Date: April 2012|
|Publisher: Serpent's Tail|
|External links: Author's website|
The Danish writer/actor Knud Romer has a gallery of fascinating relatives which collectively feature in Nothing But Fear. This biographical novel is a collection of memories from his grandparents' era, moving forward, to that of his parents, including World War II and his own childhood in 1960s and 70s small town Denmark. The vignettes aren't in chronological order but that's because memories normally aren't. The stories are narrated almost as if they're fresh from the mind, ensuring a natural flow. The interesting thing is that no matter how fascinating his other relatives are my mind's eye always seemed to return to one: his mother, Hildegard.
Hildegard Voll was part of the German anti-Nazi movement during the war and suffered the devastating effects of being principled. However, her suffering didn't finish with the armistice. Hildegard, in the eyes of the Danish community she later joined was guilty of two crimes. Firstly she was the same nationality as Denmark's wartime occupiers and secondly was the fact she even dared to fall in love with and marry a Dane and becoming a Jorgensen; a crime that would taint her husband and children by association. I had realised that bad feeling followed German citizens in post-war Europe, but here the author vividly describes the depths of hatred in which he and his parents were held an entire town. This prejudice and, often, malicious bullying was countered by the Jorgensen family's determination not to sink to the same level. Official hostilities may have ceased but Knud and his parents needed courage to face each day, each jibe, each episode of victimisation and pain with no outside help or even friendship, just each other.
Hildegard Voll Romer Jorgensen (now that's definitely a name to roll around the tongue) may be the centre piece but the rest of the ancestors aren't exactly lacking interest. I found myself chortling at Knud's grandfather's ill-fated foray into shop-keeping and his attitude to his customers. I whooped inwardly when Dr Jaschinksi finally obtained revenge but then there was also the crying. I cried over the plight of his burnt, disfigured grandmother and the tragedy of Jorn-Erik as well as his mother's struggle for survival. However, the more you read, the more you realise that the characters populating the pages are only half the story. The main star of this book is the writing.
Knud Romer has the economy and use of language that one would normally expect of a poet, and an exemplary poet at that. Each pen portrait is beautifully executed in an almost concentrated form, the words swelling to double their size, effect and meaning once read. Hardly a page passes before there's a quotable line that catches in the throat and the breath simultaneously. His father was too big to take in at one go so Knud knew him in bits. His mother's aunt lived her life on the lip of a grave with hands folded. In fact she was almost vindictively religious to the extent that Jesus hung on the wall, weeping: a whole attitude summed up in six words.
I did wonder how much of the book is biography and how much fictionalisation, but it doesn't matter. One gets the feeling that for each piece of fiction embroidering its chapters, there's a person in the planet's history who has felt, heard, done or suffered the same.
Nothing But Fear isn't just a story, it's evidence of so much. It shows a 21st century world the struggles of its past generations. It demonstrates the destructive mob mentality that lays just civilised skin-scratch deep and the indomitability needed to withstand it. But most of all it's evidence of a superlative writing talent (and indeed of John Mason's sensitive translation) that holds a mirror up to society in the hope that at some time, somewhere, something will change.
I would like to thank the publisher for giving Bookbag a copy of this book for review.
If you would like to explore wartime Denmark further, perhaps you'd like Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. If this is a bit simplistic or if you would prefer to read about the lives of ordinary Germans during the war, try The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
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