Inherited shame

Julia Butschkow - Apropos Opa

Julia Butschkow has enrolled in the field of post-WWII literature with ‘Apropos Opa’, a story about a depressed woman working in a watchmaker shop, because studying literature at the university was too much.
Her father has ‘fled’ to Denmark from Germany and all that it stands for, denouncing it’s, and more importantly his father’s existence, while working at being as Danish as possible. She, an emotionally confused and apathetic woman, her father, psychologist and womanizer, and last but not least her grandfather, a (former) SS-officer turned alcoholic with bad parenting skills, form a basis for this novel that takes the reader from the end of WWII up to present day in shifts.
Butschkow writes in a minimalistic style that gets straight to the point or doesn’t at all. Chapters are short, and so are sentences. Sometimes there is the impression of something left unsaid, but existing very much in between the lines.

There is off course the obvious theme of guilt and shame where different mentalities lead to different solutions to the problem. The notion of being German (fully, partly or denying it) after WWII is a very complex entity. The questions ‘where were you during the war?’ or ‘what did you do?’ are so painful that some don’t want to be asked and others don’t want to be told. There is a process of rewriting your life or adapting it in unfavorable circumstances. How to deal with the fact that your father/mother/uncle was a Nazi, and knowing that there are several others in the land who must deal with the same fact, but no one is talking about it? Well, these days everyone is talking about it, through it. And Butschkow’s novel is a great input to the field. Also for the particular reason of the narrator being part German, part Danish. The narrator is being made aware of the negativity in her German heritage because of the way, for example, her Danish grandfather talks about them. She is ashamed without knowing exactly why.

The psychology goes further, because she also takes on the role of emotional caretaker to her father, thinking that no one can protect or understand her unstable father as she can. The scenes Butschkow describes of the narrator as child are heart-piercing and support the whole mental status of the grown up narrator. She is very emotionally attached to her father, which sometimes borders on a negative dependency. I get the feeling that she has never had her Oedipal moment with her father and thus doesn’t have a clear line between herself as individual and her father. In one part of the book she explains how she feels she and her father are in symbiosis, she feels what he feels, and reacts almost with physical distress if he is in a bad mood or uncomfortable.

And although she is center in the novel, it is very much a story of the father and grandfather as well. We are privileged in ‘knowing’ the narrator’s inner thoughts, but must draw conclusions about the other two on the basis of her memory and reenactments. And even though the judgement is on the basis of a proxy there is much to read from the three generations.
The story reads in parallels: father-daughter relationship, father-son relationship, dependency-autonomy, Danish-German, guilt and denial, etc. And there are continuously aspects worth analyzing and debating, so this has only been a few pointers.

This was a good read.

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