Table of Contents
This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
Epub ISBN 9781409077657
Published by Harvill Secker 2009
2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1
Copyright © S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 2007
English translation copyright © Anthea Bell 2009
Julia Franck has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
First published with the title
in 2007 by S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, Frankfurt am Main
First published in Great Britain in 2009 by
20 Vauxhall Bridge Road
The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN 9781846552120 (hardback)
ISBN 9781846552137 (trade paperback)
The translation of this work was supported by a grant from the Goethe-Institut that is funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Random House Group Limited supports The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the leading international forest certification organisation. All our titles that are printed on Greenpeace approved FSC certified paper carry the FSC logo. Our paper procurement policy can be found atwww.rbooks.co.uk/environment
Typeset in Janson by Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Printed and bound in Great Britain by
Clays Ltd, St Ives plc
The author would like to thank the German Literary Fund
for support in her work on this book.
There is nothing bad to fear; once you have crossed the threshold, all is well. Another world, and you do not have to speak.
Franz Kafka,THE BLIND SIDE
, Volume 12, 1922
OF THE HEART
TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN
seagull stood on the windowsill, uttering its cry, as if the Baltic itself were in its throat, high as the foaming crests of the waves, keen, sky-coloured, its call died away over Königsplatz where all was quiet, where the theatre now lay in ruins. Peter blinked, he hoped the gull would take fright at the mere flutter of his eyelids and fly away. Ever since the end of the war Peter had enjoyed these quiet mornings. A few days ago his mother had made up a bed for him on the kitchen floor. He was a big boy now, she said, he couldn’t sleep in her bed any more. A ray of sunlight fell on him; he pulled the sheet over his face and listened to Frau Kozinska’s soft voice. It came up from the apartment below through the cracks between the stone flags on the floor. Their neighbour was singing:
My dearest love, if you could swim, you’d swim the wide water to me
. Peter loved that melody, the melancholy of her voice, the yearning and the sadness. These emotions were so much larger than he was, and he wanted to grow, there was nothing he wanted more. The sun warmed the sheet over Peter’s face until he heard his mother’s footsteps, approaching as if from a great distance. Suddenly the sheet was pulled back. Come on, come on, time to get up, his mother told him sternly. The teacher’s waiting, she claimed. But it was a long time since Herr Fuchs the teacher had minded whether individual children were present or absent. Few of them could still attend school regularly. For days now his mother and he had been going to the station every afternoon with their little suitcase, trying to get a place on a train bound for Berlin. If one did come in, it was crammed so full that they couldn’t climb aboard. Now Peter got up and washed. Sighing, his mother took off her shoes. Out of the corner of his eye, Peter saw her untie her apron and put it to soak. Every day, her white apron was stained with soot and blood and sweat; it had to be soaked for hours before she could take the washboard and rub the fabric on it until her hands were red and the veins on her arms swollen. Peter’s mother raised both hands to her head, took off her nurse’s cap, pulled the hairpins out of her hair and let it tumble softly over her shoulders. She didn’t like him to watch her doing that. Glancing at him out of the corner of her eye, she told him: And that too. It seemed to him that she meant his little willy and with some repugnance was telling him to wash it. Then she turned her back to him and passed a brush through her thick hair. It shone golden in the sun and Peter thought he had the most beautiful mother in the world.
Even after the Russians had taken Stettin in the spring – some of the soldiers had been sleeping in Frau Kozinska’s apartment ever since – their neighbour could be heard singing early in the morning. Once last week his mother had sat down at the table to mend one of her aprons while Peter read aloud, because Herr Fuchs the teacher had told him to practise that. Peter hated reading aloud and he had sometimes noticed how little attention his mother paid when he did. Presumably she didn’t like to have the silence broken. She was usually so deep in thought that she didn’t seem to notice at all if, in mid-sentence, Peter suddenly read on to himself instead of aloud. He’d been listening to Frau Kozinska at the same time as he was reading to himself. I wish someone would wring her neck, he heard his mother say abruptly. Startled, Peter looked at her, but she just smiled and put her needle through the linen.
The fires last August had completely destroyed the school and since then the children had met Herr Fuchs the teacher in his sister’s dairy, where there was hardly ever anything for sale now. Fräulein Fuchs stood behind the empty counter with her arms crossed, waiting. Although she had gone deaf, she often put her hands over her ears. The big shop window had been broken out of its frame, the children sat on the windowsill, and Herr Fuchs the teacher showed them numbers on the board: three times ten, five times three. The children asked him to show them the places where Germany had lost battles, but he didn’t want to. We’re not going to belong to Germany any more, he said, adding that he was glad of it. Where, then, asked the children, where will we belong? Herr Fuchs the teacher shrugged his shoulders. Today Peter planned to ask him why he was glad of it.
Peter stood at the washbasin and dried himself with the towel: his shoulders, his stomach, his willy, his feet. If he did it in a different order, and he hadn’t done that for a long time, his mother lost patience. She had put out a clean pair of trousers and his best shirt for him. Peter went to the window, tapped the pane and the seagull flew up. Now that the row of houses opposite was gone, along with the backs of the buildings and the next row of houses too, he had a clear view of Königsplatz, where the ruins of the theatre stood.
Don’t be too late home, said his mother, as he was about to leave the apartment. Last night, she said, a nurse at the hospital had told her there were going to be special trains laid on today and tomorrow. We’re leaving. Peter nodded, he had been looking forward for weeks to travelling by train at last. He had only ever been on a train once, two years ago, when he was starting school and his father had visited them. His father and he had gone by train to visit a colleague of his father’s in Velten. Now the war had been over for eight weeks and his father still didn’t come home. Peter wished he could have asked his mother why she wasn’t waiting for his father any longer, he’d have liked her to confide in him.
Last summer, on the night between the sixteenth and seventeenth of August, Peter had been alone in the apartment. His mother often worked two shifts back to back during those months, and she had stayed on at the hospital after the late shift to work the night shift as well. When she wasn’t there Peter felt afraid of the hand that would come out from under the bed in the dark, reaching up through the gap between the wall and the sheet. He felt the metal of his clasp knife against his leg, he kept thinking how fast he would have to whip it out when the hand appeared. That night Peter had lain face down on his mother’s bed and listened, as he did every night. It was better to lie in the very middle of the bed; that way there was plenty of room on both sides for him to see the hand appear in good time. He’d have to thrust the knife in fast and firmly. Peter sweated when he imagined the hand coming up; he saw himself so paralysed by fear that he wouldn’t be able to raise the clasp knife to strike it.
He remembered exactly how he had taken the velvet of the heavy bedspread in both hands, one of those hands also clutching the knife, and rubbed his cheek against it. Faintly, almost gently, the first siren sounded, then it howled, rising high to a long, penetrating screech. Peter shut his eyes. The sound stung his ears. Peter didn’t like the cellar. He kept thinking up new ways of avoiding going down to the shelter there. The siren sounded again. His heart was beating fast, his throat felt tight. Everything about him was stiff, rigid. He had to breathe deeply. Goose down – Peter pressed his nose into his mother’s pillow and drew in the smell of her as if it could satisfy his hunger. Then all was still. Terribly still. Peter raised his head and heard his teeth chattering; he tried to keep his jaws together, he clenched his teeth with all his might, lowered his head again and pressed his face into the goose down. As he rubbed his face against the pillow, which meant that he had to move his head back and forth, something underneath it crackled. Carefully, he put his hand under the pillow and his fingertips touched paper. At the same moment a sinister roaring sound filled his ears, the sound of the first bombs dropping. Peter’s breath came faster, there was crashing and splintering, glass couldn’t withstand the pressure and the windowpanes broke, the bed where he was lying shook and Peter suddenly felt that everything around him was more alive than he was. Silence followed. In defiance of the events outside, he drew out a letter with his free hand. Peter recognized the writing. He laughed wildly, he couldn’t help it, oh, his father had entirely slipped his mind although he would always protect him. That was his writing, look, his M for My, A for Alice. The letters stood firmly side by side, nothing could touch them, no siren, no bomb, no fire. Peter smiled lovingly at them. His eyes stung and the writing threatened to blur. His father was sorry about something. Peter had to read the letter from his protector, he had to read what it said, as long as he was reading nothing would harm him. Fate was putting all Germany severely to the test. The sheet of paper trembled in Peter’s hands; that must be the shaking of the bed. As for Germany, Peter’s father was doing his best. She asks if he couldn’t work in one of the shipyards. Shipyards, of course, sirens were howling but not ships’ sirens, the other kind. Peter’s eyes streamed. Civil engineers like him, said the letter, were urgently needed. There was a hissing very close, as if it were right outside the window, a crash, a second and even louder crash. They were finishing work on the Reich Autobahn, there wasn’t much to do in the east. Not much to do? Once again Peter heard the roaring, the smell of burning tickled his nose at first, then it became acrid and sharp, but Peter was still smiling, he felt as if nothing bad could happen to him with his father’s letter in his hands. Alice. Peter’s mother. She reproached him, said the letter, for writing so seldom. There was smoke in the air but it didn’t smell of smoke; was that a fire crackling? It had nothing to do with her origins.
, what was
? And what origins, what was his father writing about? A remittance? Did that say remittance? Things were happening, wrote his father, that changed matters between them.