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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Portrait of the Mother
as a Young Woman

Friedrich Christian Delius

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To purchase Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman

Title: Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman
Author: Friedrich Christian Delius
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 119 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman - US
Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman - UK
Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman - Canada
Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman - India
Bildnis der Mutter als junge Frau - Deutschland
Ritratto della madre da giovane - Italia
Retrato de la madre de joven - España
  • German title: Bildnis der Mutter als junge Frau
  • Translated by Jamie Bulloch

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine character portrait

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 13/12/2010 Adrian Turpin
FAZ . 4/10/2006 Heinrich Detering
The Guardian . 27/8/2010 Nicholas Lezard
NZZ . 23/9/2006 Martin Krumbholz
The NY Times Book Rev. . 25/3/2012 Cameron Martin
TLS A+ 17/9/2010 Helmut Schmitz
Wall Street Journal . 25/2/2012 Sam Sacks
Die Zeit . 9/11/2006 Katharina Döbler

  Review Consensus:

  Most quite impressed; a few a bit underwhelmed

  From the Reviews:
  • "Deliusís exploration of how indoctrination and denial work impresses with both the sympathy it creates for its bewildered protagonist and the musicality of its prose." - Adrian Turpin, Financial Times

  • "Wenn Delius die Gedankenfragmente seiner Heldin mit Zitaten aus Bibel, Kirchenliedern und Kriegsberichten montiert, dann macht er die Stimmen hörbar, die mit von außen kommen und sich wie von innen anhören, die im Ich umgehen wie Wiedergänger und zwischen denen hindurch es einen Weg finden muß, der sein eigener ist." - Heinrich Detering, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(W)hat we do have is a stream of almost poetic prose (which looks as though it has been very well translated, in that you feel you can discern the rhythms and hence the purpose of the original), a picture of a mind that at first seems pinched and unfurnished, but which unspools with great tact and sympathy so that we know, by the end, all we need to know about her life up to that point." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "Am Ende steht die Erlösung, auch die von der Barbarei des Faschismus: Diese fromme Zuversicht wendet der Text diskret gegen alles Opulente, Pathetische und, sprechen wir's nur aus, auch gegen die römische Kirche, die ihrerseits, gerade in Rom, zum Pomp und zum Spektakel neigt." - Martin Krumbholz, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "This distinct and lovely novella by Delius, a celebrated German novelist and poet, is one long run-on sentence, its transitions marked by poetic enjambments and numerous non sequiturs. Yet in Bullochís fluid translation the story never loses clarity, and the design reinforces the shape of the narrative" - Cameron Martin, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Deliusís beautifully balanced and moving novella is part of a wider shift in German literature over the past decade, which replaces a judgemental attitude towards the generation that lived through National Socialism and the war with one of empathetic understanding. (...) What marks out Deliusís novella is its level-headed handling of the material; the extreme closeness to the protagonist never rings false or obscures the complex ethical issues that animate the narrative. (...) Jamie Bullochís excellent translation keeps the supple and rhythmic flow of Deliusís language. This is a small masterpiece." - Helmut Schmitz, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The most noticeable feature of this work is that it is delivered entirely in a single sentence. Mr. Delius (aided by Jamie Bullock's admirable translation from the German) is able to convey a sense of motion and continuity in Margaret's thoughts while, using the poetic technique of stanza breaks, also giving readers places to pause and breathe. Yet for all its technical virtues, the novel is unfulfilling." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

  • "Wir haben es hier nicht nur mit der reizvollen erzählerischen Spekulation eines längst erwachsenen Kindes über seine Mutter zu tun, sondern mit einer – nennen wir es vorsichtig: Betrachtung des deutschen Protestantismus vor dem ästhetischen und historischen Hintergrund der Stadt Rom und des Zweiten Weltkriegs. Wer sich mit den elterlichen Scheinriesen der Kriegsgeneration beschäftigt, wird deren Haltung zu Krieg und Nationalsozialismus immer miteinbeziehen müssen." - Katharina Döbler, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       German author Friedrich Christian Delius was born in Rome in early 1943; Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman describes a few hours in the life of a young, eight-months-pregnant German woman in Rome, in 1943; clearly, the mother is his mother.
       Barely in her twenties, and despite all the wartime uncertainties, the mother traveled from northern Germany to be with her husband -- only to find out when she got there that he was being sent back into combat after all, to northern Africa. She remains well cared for in Rome, living in relative comfort in a home run by German Evangelical nuns -- an island of Protestant German familiarity in Catholic, foreign Rome -- and the novel follows her life and thoughts for a few hours as she goes on an outing to hear a concert, part of her daily routine of getting a bit of light exercise, as recommended by her doctor.
       She hasn't even picked up any Italian, so she remains feeling an outsider, unable to readily communicate or understand or participate in much going on anywhere away from where she lives. She does sense that the Italians aren't too thrilled about any German presence, despite still being nominal allies of the Germans in the war. And things don't seem to be going that great in the war, either, with far less triumphant news as of late. But at least her husband is in northern Africa, which they agree sounds a lot better than being on the eastern front, in Russia. And Rome itself seems a safe island: she tells herself that even the Americans and English wouldn't bomb and desecrate it -- and: "even the Germans would never do anything to harm the splendour of the Eternal City".
       Overall, she seems to think it's better: "not too know too much, not to say too much, not to ask too much" -- but as she ambles along she can't help but have a few doubts creep in. Her life has been dominated by the all-powerful Hitler-figure:

       since she was twelve years old the Führer of the German Reich had proceeded from one triumph to the next, for as long as she could remember he had only won, conquered, been celebrated, cheered, even during church services thanks were offered up for the political and military successes too
       But as her thoughts wander she notes the picture isn't quite so rosy any longer. She doesn't really question her long-held worldviews yet, but there is that creeping sense of doubt. And maybe the Eternal City isn't that safe after all; maybe no place is.
       Her religious identity -- a Protestant in the center of the Catholic universe -- marks her as much as her national one, reminding her of her outsider-status while also being something she gladly clings to. She holds on, firmly and obstinately, to specific parts of her identity, rather than adapting to the foreign world she finds herself in -- most obviously in failing to pick up any Italian.
       Music is another escape, as the narrative culminates in the concert she attends, offering a different sort of release and allowing her thoughts to come together.
       Written as a single, run-on sentence -- but broken up into short paragraphs, making for relatively easy and straightforward reading -- Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman is a small personal and moving snapshot of the intersection of significant transitional points in time, both very personal -- this girl growing into womanhood, this mother about to give birth -- and much larger, a nation and ideology about to be turned on its head and revealed in all their monstrosity.
       Delius crafts this little stroll into a short but compelling narrative. Quite nicely done.

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 March 2012

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Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman: Reviews: Friedrich Christian Delius: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature

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About the Author:

       German author Friedrich Christian Delius was born in 1943.

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© 2012 the complete review

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