BY ANNE RICHTER
Publication Date: November 7, 2019
Neem Tree Press
Hardcover; 240 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance/Saga
Distant Signs is an intimate portrait of two families spanning three generations amidst turbulent political change, behind and beyond the Berlin Wall. In 1960s East Germany, Margret, a professor’s daughter from the city, meets and marries Hans, from a small village in Thuringia. The couple struggle to contend with their different backgrounds, and the emotional scars they bear from childhood in the aftermath of war. As East German history gradually unravels, with collision of the personal and political, their two families’ hidden truths are quietly revealed. An exquisitely written novel with strongly etched characters that stay with you long after the book is finished and an authentic portrayal of family life behind the iron curtain based on personal experience of the author who is East German and was 16 years old at the fall of the Berlin Wall. Why do families repeat destructive patterns of behaviour across generations? Should the personal take precedence over the political? Can we rise above our histories and political identities to forge a new understanding of the past and to welcome change?
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Three generations have lived behind the Berlin Wall in East Germany. Hans and Margaret are a young couple who met in the 1960's in East Germany. Due to each of their parents experiences during the War, they have very different backgrounds and beliefs. These experiences plus the regulations of living in East Germany place a lot of stress on their relationship. As time goes on, each generation deals with the complications of East Germany in different ways, often clashing and challenging the previous generation; however, everyone seems to know that time marches on and things must change.
Distant Signs is a solemn family saga that delves into the impact that the German Democratic Republic had on the people. Without getting into the politics of East Germany or the people responsible, everything is focused on the characters- their actions, thoughts and relationships to one another. This is an intimate portrait into the life of one family. The story feels more like a series of anecdotes told at a family gathering. The story mostly focuses on Margaret and Hans relationship, but moves through time beginning with their parents since their lives impacted Hans and Margaret separately. Both sets of parents had very different experiences during and after War that led them to raise Hans and Margaret differently. While there is a definite feeling of constantly being watched and having to be careful of what is said and who you talk to and several mentions of meetings, this book could really be set anywhere during anytime. The writing had a heavy sense to it, while being a relatively short book, this took me longer to read while allowing all of the nuances to set in.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
Anne Richter was born in 1973 in Jena, in the former German Democratic Republic. Her degree in Romance languages and English included study periods in England, Italy and France. In 2011, Anne was nominated for the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize, a highly regarded German-language literary award. Her debut novel, Distant Signs, was published in Germany in 2013. Anne is currently writing her second novel.
Douglas Irving is Scottish. He studied German and Spanish at Aberdeen University. In 2014 he completed a Masters in Translation at Glasgow University. His first translation, Crossing: A Love Story by Anna Seghers was published in 2016 in the US to positive reviews. His translation of Anna Seghers’ last work published in her lifetime, Three Women from Haiti, is set to follow.