A woman is forced to go on a diet

The mother is fat, much too fat, thinks her husband. Daniela Dröscher recounts a family trap and explains the 1980s in the west.

Daniela Dröscher at a presentation of the long list of the German Book Prize in Hamburg.dpa

The interpretation of what can be said plays a major role in the novel “Lies About My Mother” by Daniela Dröscher. Even if it seems certain that the mother is fat. But what else is true in the statements about them? The essential is told from the point of view of the girl Ela, at the beginning aged just under seven, at the end ten, in the language of an adult: The ego passes into the position of memory. Although the mother asks the child to keep things a secret from the father, she herself reacts in horror when she catches him making a lame excuse. The father in turn tells the daughter in a familiar moment that the mother is lying.

The father apparently sees his ostentatious build as a provocation, the cause of most of the family’s problems. He even criticizes his wife for not progressing professionally. She is unpresentable. In this novel, Daniela Dröscher combines the physical and the social, questioning the question of origin from the angle of conditions within the family. It is on the long list of the German Book Prize.

Where is Edgar Reitz’s “Heimat” set?

“The story I have in mind,” writes the author at the start, “is a story with lots of makeup, blonde wigs, trapeze and fake buttocks. An absolutely fictional story in many ways.” Alone the promise of the circus setting partially holds. The children like to do gymnastics, dress up, it is important in front of the neighbors to conform to external standards. But absolutely fictitious? The place of action is a village in the Hunsrück in Rhineland-Palatinate The accompanying film is the first installment of Edgar Reitz’s “Heimat” trilogy.Is this area, this time in the novel you even gather in front of the television.

The author says “I” at the action level and rarely describes more than an attentive child would be able to register. are these lies The parents, the paternal grandparents living in the house, the other grandparents a few miles away, all appear in the novel only when in the presence of “Ela”. We discover the work in the office of a leather goods factory through the eyes of the girl who is abducted between the end of kindergarten and the start of the school year. The mother plays a different role: recognized, satisfied. The seemingly childish narrator carries with her the particular problems of the family and the general problems of women in society, especially in the former Federal Republic.

However, these points are also expressly mentioned. After long plot sections, the writer repeatedly switches to the author’s ego for one to three pages. Daniela Dröscher then tries a mixed form of autofictional narration: she comments on her own writing. Putting together several of these interludes could make for a compelling essay on the oppression of women under capitalism. Based on the situations just described, Dröscher reflects on unfair wages, the multiple burdens of household, children and caring for older relatives. For example, after the mother hits her daughter with a wooden spoon, she writes: “In the chamber play called ‘Family’, the child often becomes the lightning rod for the forces to which the woman is subjected in the patriarchy. . again preceded by an argument between the parents over the mother’s body.

She proposes a “care revolution” as an answer

At other times, Dröscher considers how the situation could be changed. “Empathy and caring are finite resources,” she writes after describing her mother’s commitment to others and comes to this: “The answer has been there for a long time: a caring revolution. Strange to see the two words next to each other: ‘care’ and ‘revolution’. Well, it’s also strange to see these contemporary words in a novel about a family in the 80s. After the often graphic and depressing stories from the daughter’s point of view, this author’s comment sometimes has something instructive.

Another quirk of this book is uncomfortably manipulative. Very often, not only the brand names of typical products or television programs are italicized, but also formulations or terms that seem outdated today. In fact, it is clear that they represent the color of the times, the way of speaking in family circles. Emphasis is particularly irritating when it comes to banal phrases such as “wisely planning”, “pulled ashore” or “not a quiet moment”. After a good 300 pages, the author reveals to her audience in one of the explanatory sections that she finds parent clichés problematic: “As a writer, it’s a sign of inferior style to use these expressions . Unless you call it the language of a certain milieu.

In this language-critical explanatory passage, Daniela Dröscher uses an elegant arc to recall her idea of ​​the novel from the start. The twists seemed “so acrobatic” to her as a child, “because I took them completely at face value”. What follows is a firework of sayings ranging from “open your mouth” to “look up”.

The “Lies About My Mother” offers an amazing story on a retrospective level. The young character and his friend Jessy, who temporarily lives in the house, have to endure a lot. Dröscher often narrates this with strong effect, straight from the moment. The kids have a lot of fun too. The mother, however, is trapped, overburdened, and unloved by her intellectually inferior husband. With her inability to adapt to her physical desires, her desperate diets, she becomes more and more of a tragic figure.

At the dramatic low point, the girl realizes that she is ashamed of her own mother in front of strangers. How can I say that, decades later, without hurting anyone’s feelings? Apparently, Daniela Dröscher needed the auxiliary construction of intermediate essayistic texts to create distance. She herself has long started her own story, which she also writes. “Father, mother and two children. The man is again in first position.

Daniela Dröscher: Lies about my mother. Novel. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 2022. 444 pages, 24 euros

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