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A Substantial Word

Our Radio Reader Book Leader recalls her own painful childhood reactions to visiting the concentration camps and finds her experiences similar to those recounted in Belonging.
Bibi595, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
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Our Radio Reader Book Leader recalls her own painful childhood reactions to visiting the concentration camps and finds her experiences similar to those recounted in Belonging.

This is Miriam Scott from Amarillo, Texas.
This book grabbed my attention with the title and cover alone, quickly. “Belonging” is what I like to call a substantial word. Let me explain what I mean: substantial words, they pack a lot of meaning.

This is Miriam Scott from Amarillo, Texas.

This book grabbed my attention with the title and cover alone, quickly. “Belonging” is what I like to call a substantial word. Let me explain what I mean: substantial words, they pack a lot of meaning.

Substantial words quickly bring to mind memories of events and people; and we attach value to them. “Belonging.” It’s a great word. Everyone wants to belong; we all yearn for belonging. Belonging is a very emotional word. It is one of my favorite words.

The cover of the book is, at least to me, obviously German. The landscape, the woman hiking overlooking the scenery, her red coat with white polka dots, so German. Where I used to belong. I’m hooked!

This graphic novel is created somewhat like a scrapbook. With pictures and stickers, paintings and poems, it has a very personal flair, this book. And I have so much in common with Nora Krug, the author. We are about the same age, both women, both immigrated from Germany to the States, many of our experiences are similar. And, just like her, making sense of Germany’s history has been a lifelong struggle for me.

My grandmother raised me for a while when I was very young. We were always close. She was a warmhearted woman, with a wicked sense of humor, the life of any party, and not once did I hear her say anything even remotely racist. No matter how hard I try, I cannot picture this woman with her hand outstretched up high saying: “Heil Hitler.” And yet she did. Germany did. Why?

Just like Nora Krug, I also took many fieldtrips in school to concentration camps. Pretty early on in the book, she shares pictures of her class trip to the camp in Birkenau in 1994. The two pictures show her classmates just after their visit. I can feel these pictures deep down in my gut. I know exactly what these young people are going through. What they are feeling. I know they didn’t sleep well that night. All of them are looking down with bowed heads, stunned by the horrors they just saw.

Nora Krug developed these pictures herself and remembers feeling gratified when she sees how they come out. She writes: “Here is the evidence of our collective guilt.” Collective guilt. It has been a part of growing up in Germany just like schnitzel and the autobahn. Collective guilt is a defining character of Germany, it is part of our cultural identity.

However, as it turns out, Nora Krug and I both apparently aren’t up to date any more. She describes attending a festival in New York City called the Steuben Parade. Americans of German origin celebrate their German patriotism here she writes. Just the combination of the words Germany and patriotism together give me the chills. So, I’m quite sure, that just like the author, I would have put away every little German paper flag given to me as well. Waving it seems unthinkable. She finally asks a German tourist, who is in fact waving her flag why she came to the parade. “It’s about time that Germans feel confident about their country again” the tourist replies. Nora Krug is floored. I’m floored. She asks: “Have I been away from Germany so long that I have missed a crucial turning point?”

I never read a book this relatable before. But even if you’re not a German immigrant, it’s informative, it’s well written, and beautifully designed. Reading the book Belonging is an immersive experience guaranteed to get you thinking.

This is Miriam Scott from Amarillo, Texas.

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Spring Read 2022: Graphic Novels—Worth a Thousand Words 2022 Spring ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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