“No matter where I go, I’m still broken. And now I’m thousands of miles from home, in a place where I barely speak the language and I have no idea what to do.”
“Even if I crossed the whole world looking for a place to feel at home, I wouldn’t belong anywhere.”
The German Room by the Argentinian writer, Carla Maliandi published by Charco Press is a beautifully written novel and skillfully translated by Frances Riddle.
The German Room is an exploration of the meaning of exile, home, childhood, and loneliness. It offers a fascinating and nuanced mediation on the idea of exile: a forced versus a self-imposed exile form own life, taking a refuge in the illusionary idea of own childhood, and far from the current notion of reality.
There is this certain feeling of melancholy which is prevalent throughout the story. It evokes the quest for the place we call home, the place where we belong.
The story follows an unnamed Argentinian woman in her 30’s engulfed by the emotional turmoil as she leaves or rather flees her home and job in Buenos Aires for Heidelberg in Germany “with [her] life in a shambles, without having told anyone in [her home] Buenos Aires what [she] was doing”. Heidelberg is the city where the protagonist was born and lived for the first five years of her life where her parents were forced to exile in the 1970’s from the Argentinian military dictatorship.
The protagonist has fled Buenos Aires for Germany to take refuge from her own life. She hopes that her trip to Heidelberg will somehow bring about the feeling of belonging, of not being lost in life, and her life will be back on tracks. This move, however, provides her with further unexpected twists in her life.
During her time in Heidelberg, our protagonist encounters a rich array of characters who themselves are exiled in some sense and often in search of their own idea of ‘home’. We meet a Hungarian landlady, who was forced to leave her home country decades earlier, an Argentinian student who worked hard towards getting the scholarship to get a place at the Heidelberg university, an Argentinian professor of literature who fled the military junta in the 1970’s and since then he never visited his birth country, a clairvoyant based in Argentina, a Japanese female student and her mother, as well as a German-Turkish photographer.
This wonderful exploration of exile portrays refuge of any type as something that greatly affects one’s emotional and physical well-being.
I highly recommend this book to everyone.