This is one of the most visually beautiful books that I’ve ever read, which at the same time treats the reader to some really great creative nonfiction. I was a little jealous—how can Nora Krug be simultaneously so good at both illustration and writing?—but also extremely inspired to experiment with the visuals in my own writing. That said, I am normally peeved when I encounter narratives of identity, especially when they come from positions of privilege. It seems overindulgent to me to put oneself at the forefront of a particular historical event, especially if you had nothing to do with it, and are just trying to make sense of your long-dead grandparents. I feel the same way about children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, by the way. Yes, inherited trauma, all that, but it seems like a reductive way to build one’s narrative.
But I also understand where Krug is coming from. What she writes about her cultural upbringing is fascinating, and akin to the many cultures of denial that I witness. American denial of race issues, Russian denial of colonial past, Jewish denial of the Palestinian genocide: it’s all complex ambiguities that are cancelled out by the political correctness. And this is what made the reading so important and meaningful for me. The fact that we are even conditioned into having to pick sides, both actively and retroactively, in past events, is baffling. And this way, our retrospective guilt becomes more important than not taking the wrong side of the question in the current affairs. Nationalism, nostalgia, belonging, are all false friends in one’s search for truth, and Krug’s memoir inadvertently showed to me how one can become blinded in such a search, and how lonely it is in this world, where the present is only examined with proper care when it becomes the past.
Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home by Nora Krug
Published by Scribner in 2018
Original title: Heimat. Ein deutsches Familienalbum (Deutsch)