Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home - Nora Krug

Graphic nonfiction is a genre that I was completely unaware of until late 2016 when I discovered Sarah Glidden's Rolling Blackouts, her account of the trip that she and two friends took to Turkey, Syria, and Iraq in order to document the effect of the Iraq War on the civilian population in those countries.  Glidden's book, told in the graphic style most familiar to comic strip fans, is a surprisingly powerful and moving one.  And I do not believe it would have worked nearly so well had it been published as a traditional nonfiction book. I wondered at the time whether I would ever read another graphic nonfiction title, and now almost three years later, it has finally happened.  

Nora Krug's Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home uses a somewhat different graphic style than that used by Rolling Blackouts, but it is a style that works very well to explain what it was like for that generation of Germans who grew up unsure as to exactly the role their grandparents may have played in World War II.  Their parents themselves were often unsure of the family's exact history, but even if they had all the answers, they often withheld the details that would have allowed their children to do any of the research for themselves (not a good sign).

Nora Krug, who lives with her family in Brooklyn, decided decades after the war that it was high time for her to learn the truth about her own family.  She knew that the task would be made more difficult by the deaths of the last remaining members of her family who had actual memories of World War II, and that she could not afford to wait much longer because that inevitable time was fast approaching.  Krug returned to Germany both to do archival research and to visit family members she had not seen since she was a child - and there she learned about her maternal grandfather (a driving teacher during the war) and her father's brother (a teenage member of the SS who died in Italy). 

Krug began her research with a mixture of dread and hope: dread that her relatives may have been among the war's worst offenders, and hope that she would find that they had managed to avoid taking part in the atrocities associated with the German army of those years.  In Germany, she visited archives to study records made available to the public and interviewed an elderly aunt who provided her with answers to some of her most nagging questions.  What she learned, and how she felt about it, is brilliantly recounted in Belonging via Krug's drawings and enhanced photos.  Publisher Scribner correctly characterizes the book as a "visual memoir," a genre of which I am now a big fan.

Bottom Line:  If you are in the mood for something very different in the way of memoir or general nonfiction reading, this one is most definitely worth a look.  I hope now to find a third book in the genre - and I really hope it doesn't take three years to find a new one this time.

The following are pages from Rolling Blackouts for those who may be wondering about the contrast in styles that I mentioned:

Book Number 3,407

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