“You will never be fulfilled until you understand that you must live your life for others, not for yourself.”
A woman in Berlin has died mysteriously in her cramp, quaint, and cluttered inner city apartment. The mystery is not in the how she died but the motivation behind it. The death has been officially ruled as a suicide by intended malnutrition or forced starvation. Growing up Miriam was distant, never really feeling the love expected from her father. Living under an unusual marital situation and parental rule, she lived with her mother in her childhood hometown while her father resided in California teaching European history and working on other endeavors. You get the feeling that without ever getting the chance to grow roots in one area, that when she had the opportunity to leave that she would go and never come back. Sure enough her thoughts became reality which grew to become a great divide between Miriam and her father. In her death she made a statement to her family that she finally belonged. Germans have a history of accepting suffering and in her time as a citizen she denied herself of great pleasures and luxuries. It became apparent to her that happiness was permanently out of reach. In the end like her German predecessors Miriam embraced her suffering and issued it little credit, she did not want any outside help or interference because when she died she became one with herself, as well as the state of the residents that preceded her.
A father travels from his California home to meet his son who has lived in London for the past twenty-five years so they can collect the body of their daughter, their sister. They are reunited under unfortunate circumstances, but the father is happy to see his estranged son as they are met at the Munich Airport by an Officer of the United States Consulate named Trish. Three weeks painfully go by as they wait for the weather to clear and the body of Miriam to be identified and released to them so they can bury her body back home. During this time their own conditions worsen as their own independent strained relationship with food becomes contentious. You begin to wonder if Trish will have to bear the responsibility of sending three bodies back to California before the end of this emotional whirlwind. While analyzing the reason for Miriam’s death, her father believes that Germany had altered the constitution of her brain, or a genetic code for madness has set off inside her causing her demise. Son begins to wonder if father did something to Miriam as a child that forced her to move away from home and became a victim of self-loathing until the end of her life.
“But he awoke from the torpor of his list to lean forward and say – and as he spoke he hit the table hard once or twice with an outstretched index finger, and he revealed and aggression or rage that threatened to overflow from him – At no time in history have human beings had less freedom, less happiness.”
Father immigrated from Germany with his mother when he was nine years old. It’s not revealed but you understand that his father was a nazi officer during the world war and with this understanding he often denies any and all opportunities to talk about his childhood. Father is in his mid-seventies and is a retired history teacher, editor, publisher, and author of two books. When his wife died twenty years prior, he began to gain more acceptance of death and became more aware of his own mortality. He also became more of a home-body who had few friends and slowly became socially withdrawn and physically sick due to his lack of nourishment.
Son is a successful marketing strategist who studied international business, and like his father he graduated from Princeton, but left for the workforce rather than earn his MBA. Like his sister before him he decided to take an internship across the pond in London. Unlike his sister he has come back home a few times over the past twenty years. The death of their mother brought the family back together for a few days. It has been twenty years since Miriam has last been back home and seen her father. In the six years since he last saw his father he went from a fit and mobile sixty-five year old to a frail and old seventy-one. Son fears that he will end up like his father and will live a listless existence with no one to love and a lifetime of nausea accompanying him to his grave.
“Then, with my left hand, I took a hunk of flesh in the side of my gut. I squeezed the flesh and started to cut. I started the cut pretty deep, but I couldn’t keep it deep. It was more painful than I could have imagined, and I almost bit through my notebook to keep from screaming. I was thinking, if I can get a pound out, just a pound, I will be purified. Or maybe I was thinking that, if I could make a large incision, large enough to stretch back the skin wide on either side, I might, for a moment, before the pain became unbearable, witness the reality of the life of my body, and, by witnessing that reality, eliminate the mystery of who I am and how and what I perceive – because that mystery is such a great pain, a pain worth enduring minor pain to eliminate. But of course it had been unbearable from the very beginning.”
Like the cover page of the book, there is a distinct layer of fog ascending from the pages confusing the reader of the characters intent, their history, and what really happened over the last few days of an ex-pats life. There is an apparent disconnect between father and son, daughter and father, father and his past, son and his childhood home. With this family you get the sense that disaffection is a common characteristic that has been passed down from generation to generation. Distancing yourself from your past is also a common trait. After immigrating from Berlin with his mother and spending over sixty years in California, a father recollects on his abandonment of his sick mother and how it has come full-circle as he approaches his final years. Father never speaks of his childhood, his wife and kids leave him for the south to be closer to her parents, Miriam leaves for Berlin, and son leaves for London. It seems like a rite of passage for this family, but in the end you understand that there is a much more to it than that.
Stream of consciousness narrative of a man with no identifiable name reflecting on poignant moments of his life that have helped shape the person he has become. With the sort of subject matter we are dealing with it is clear that the author has experienced many traumatic experiences either personally or intimately in a second-hand nature. You must maintain some very forthright friends/company or a vivid imagination to come up with the complexities found within these pages.
Disconnected, unforgiving, disquieting, psychological, and dispassionate; this is the type of feel that I enjoy in books, but I felt that there were too many erroneous distractions impeding my desire to fully-appreciate it in totality. You get the feeling that as a reader that enjoys the dreary, the unintentional humor, and the psychological dread, that in the end you are missing something. The writing and emotion is so on point, the reminiscences of the past give you glimpses as to why things are the way they are, but there is a glitch that has kept me from accepting the way I feel. And from what I can tell about the author, he could care less. Fascinating read will remember this experience for a long time.
“Munich Airport is a blue airport, there is blue everywhere. The blue is a serious and efficient blue but also an ebullient blue, full of promise and optimism and reassurance, a blue that says, Everything will be on time, society is safe, planes become faster and faster and also burn cleaner and cleaner, are floors are bacteria-free, the sandwiches are fresh, only beautiful people fly, all destinations are beautiful, everybody is getting wealthier and taller, we are conquering are weaknesses, soon we will all be able to travel to space together. The blue is numinous, full of depth, somehow both spiritual and electromagnetic. And it is contained by a sober grey that you almost do not notice, a grey that says, The blue is where you want to go, but I am how you will get there.”