Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Gudrun Pausewang

I’m reading one of my favorite contemporary German authors right now. Gudrun Pausewang. I’ve read a few of her YA novels and currently it's a collection of her short stories, Ich War Dabei: Geschichten gegen das Vergessen. (Carlsen, 2007) Loosely translated: "I was there: stories to keep us from forgetting." Again she tells of the war and the after-war years from the point of view of German youth. She’s a wonderful writer, so clear and so engaging. Last night I read the story, “Ganz vergessen” (Totally forgotten).

It caught (and held) my attention because it could easily have been my teenaged mom and her younger sister hiding in the woods. They're trying to avoid detection by the Russians who have just occupied their village. This story happens in Schlesien, on May 10, 1945. The war is finally over and it’s a beautiful spring day. Dandelions cover the fields, the sun’s shining, and a rabbit hops nearby. The two girls are freezing. They’ve been cowering outside in the woods all night—as their mother instructed— to avoid rape. And now it's early morning and a Russian soldier approaches, with a horse and wagon.  As he gets closer, they notice that he's stuck a dandelion behind his ear, and on the horse harness, too. He’s a good looking young man and he’s singing loudly and with deep melodic melancholy. As he fades away, still singing, the younger sister says, "but, he's just like one of us."  Later, when the two girls return to the safety of their mother’s house, the girls mention his good singing voice to their mother and she tells them the Russians are well known for the good voices. It’s a touching, poignant story. Makes me want to cry. Simple things like singing and dandelions and ends of war do that to me, much too easily. Or maybe it's just the power of a well written story.  Reading Pausewang's stories bring the war right close and personal. 

More about the author: Gudrun Pausewang was born in 1928 in what became Soviet-occupied Germany. She's received many awards for her writing. Some works have been translated into English including Dark Hours (Annick Press, 2006), and Traitor (Lerner, 2010). 

I gave a copy of Traitor (in the original German) to my aging aunt and she loved it. Said it was very true to life.  YA has a readership in the very old. Anyway, I'm happy to read books that reflect my family's experiences and show the 'other' side. 

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