Manja by Anna Gmeyner
Original title – Manja Ein Roman um fünf Kinde
Translator – Kate Phillips
Source – Library
“[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”
― Jim Henson,Source this summed the book up well for me
So I decide for women in translation month to do a walk through the shelves of the local library to find something I didn’t know about and this was the one that I found ,I have other books from Persephone books including the Nemirovsky short story collection ,so another translation in the series was a real surprise for me ,but also a female writer from Austria which most of the books I have reviewed are male writers so it’s a welcome edition to the collection .Anna Gmeyner was born in Vienna ,born into a liberal Jewish family ,she married and divorced young she spent time in Paris and Berlin writing scripts as well as book .She fled to Scotland in 1933 ,this book was written in Exile in 1938 it was originally published in English under the title the wall and this is a new translation and brought back the original title .
The five bright stars of Cassiopeia could ,for a moment ,be seen above the church tower .The they disappeared behind scurrying black clouds .
The intro first lines sums up the five friend born on the same day I feel .
Manja is a story set in the inter war years in a small German town ,the book is told in five stories of five friends born on the same day from their birth to the early rumblings of the Nazis and war .The five friend Heini ,Franz ,Harry ,Karl and the title character Manja ,now this is four boys and a girl ,they become friends at school .But each has a different backgroung Heini is from a liberal family his father a doctor and a piano teacher mother .Harry comes from a rich family ,but his father is half jewish .Franz is from a middle class family his father Anton is drawn in by the Nazis .Karl famliy is working class his father is very left wing and Maja is from Poland orginally .We see the years from the children but also each of these five familes as they sail their course through the inter war years as others rise others start to feel that darkness of Nazism causing trouble for them .A clever way of portraying the inter war years from every angle of Austrian society and even throug Manja a Pole living in Austria .
At the wall where they had been meeting one another every saturday and wednesday evening for nearly four years ,Karl ,Franz,Harry and Heini were waiting for Manja ,who was coming today for the last time : tomorrow she was moving with her mother and brothers to another town .
The orginal english title refers to this wall where the kids meet .
Now this is a great choice for Women in translation month as Anna Gmeyner does just what Zweig does and that is write the opposite sex perfectly this is a tale of boys growing up and watching their fathers through their eye and it works as each sees what the years going by brings .It also wonderfully catches family life at time ,Gmeyner lived in German at the time the book is set so it has a similar feeling of being true ,I was reminded of Christopher Isherwoods Berlin books ,which like this book showed the slow rise of Nazis from a bit of a joke to a conquering force it became .It plays well what happens when views of kids follow their parentsviews and lives as they twist and turn through out the years and we see our childhood friends through our parents Eyes ,the shift of Liberal attitudes of the twenties to the far right vision sees Harry’s family feeling the rise Nazism .The book was naturally banned at the time it came out and took a while to be reissued in Germany in 1984 .Have you read this book ?