Heimat: Ein deutsches Familienalbum by Nora Krug

April 2019

I faced a linguistic conundrum when buying this book. I have a personal rule that if a book was originally written in German, I will read the German version instead of the English translation (even though I have a strong professional interest in English translations of German books - and even though I read English faster than I can read German). But this graphic novel was written by a German woman who now lives in America, and apparently it was originally written in English and then translated “back” into German by the author herself. What to do, what to do? My dilemma was resolved when I found the German version of the book in a giant bookstore in Berlin and leafed through it. Given the subject matter (an intensive exploration of German history and identity) and much of the imagery (lots of collage-like representations of old German documents), it only felt right to buy the German version - though I’m not ruling out someday buying the English version as well, for comparison’s sake. The idea that I might buy two copies of the same book probably indicates how I felt about the book: I really enjoyed it. Nora Krug is just a few years younger than me, and while she was growing up in Germany and grappling with her identity and that of her home country, I was growing up in Germany doing much the same. Krug provides poignant insights into what it’s like to be a German born two generations after WWII, bearing the weight of atrocities you personally had nothing to do with but are still responsible for (as are we all), questioning your family’s past, trying to understand why people did what they did and how it affects the trajectory of your own life. Heimat is both dense and understated, charmingly and unsettlingly illustrated, sad and hopeful. It’s intensely personal, but it also touches on the full scale of history. There are no easy answers to Krug’s questions about history and family, no great catharsis, no real resolutions - because that’s just what life is like.

Further reading…