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Somewhere in Between

Rebuilding a history years after the war, author Krug sorts through many sources to discover her family’s role and therefore her own heritage
OSU Special Collections & Archives : Commons, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons
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Rebuilding a history years after the war, author Krug sorts through many sources to discover her family’s role and therefore her own heritage

Hi, I’m Valerie a Radio Reader from Topeka and I just finished reading Belonging: a German Reckons with History and Home by Nora Krug. Belonging is part of this season’s theme Graphic Novels– Worth a Thousand Words.

Hi, I’m Valerie a Radio Reader from Topeka and I just finished reading Belonging: a German Reckons with History and Home by Nora Krug. Belonging is part of this season’s theme Graphic Novels– Worth a Thousand Words.

I found this book really interesting because it was a mash up of two of my favorite genres–history and mystery. It’s a memoir about a woman born in Germany but now living in the US and set in present day. She feels a lot of guilt due to Germany’s Nazi past and she’s unsure what role her family played with Nazism. Part of the reason is that no one will talk about it or they don’t know because they never asked. So, the history part is set during the 1930s to the post war years and the mystery is how involved was her family with Nazi ideology.

One of the things that makes her story unusual was that her father was born to his parents late in life, after the war. His older brother was killed in Italy in the final months of World War II and when Krug’s father came along, he was given the exact same name as his dead brother. He has always lived in his brother’s shadow.

Krug talks about meeting Jewish folks as an adult and feeling guilty simply because she is German. She even goes so far as to try to hide her German accent while in the US. Growing up in a small German village the war was always present but never fully acknowledged. For example, in school the following words were never used: hero, victory, battle, pride and they always avoided using the superlative such as best or greatest. These words smacked of nationalism. For the same reason she was never taught the national anthem.

As she grows older, she literally becomes obsessed with finding out as much as she can about her grandparents' lives during the war. Were they Nazi sympathizers, resisters or somewhere in between? We learn that after the war virtually all Germans were investigated and classified into the following categories: major offender, offender, lesser offender, follower and exonerated. She goes through old family photos and letters; interviews estranged family members and requests her grandfather’s records from his days as a soldier.

We follow Krug on her trips to the flea market and Germany as she pieces together as much as she can from the scraps of information that she can gather and here’s where the graphic novel part comes to play. The book is literally a scrapbook, diary, and journal all in one. It’s a combination of photographs, artwork such as watercolors, letters, official documents, and musings. It is visually gorgeous.

Another way that the book is visually interesting is the use of different fonts and word placements. One of the reasons that I don’t normally read graphic novels is because the text is too small so having text that I can read comfortably such as in Belonging makes a huge difference.

An example of this is like a scrapbook is illustrated in chapter 3. The chapter is called Poisonous Mushroom and contains photos of her deceased uncle’s schoolwork from when he was a preteen during Hitler’s reign in the 1930s. The photos are interspersed with her musings about what the story means and speculation about whether her uncle believed what he wrote which was antisemitic or was just writing what he felt his teacher wanted to hear.

At the end of the memoir she concludes, “I slowly began to accept that my knowledge will have limits, that I’ll never know.”

I enjoyed going on Krug’s journey with her. Let me know what you think. I’m Valerie, a Radio Reader from Topeka.

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