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The Ties that Bind

Heimat – home. What does it take to reconstruct a fractured family?
Kreuzschnabel, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
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Heimat – home. What does it take to reconstruct a fractured family?

Hello. My name is Andrea Elise and I live in Amarillo, Texas.

I just finished reading Nora Krug’s graphic novel, Belonging. The book whisks us across miles of Nora’s anguished searching throughout New York and numerous cities in Germany. We move past moments of panic and horror, as well as levity and insight.

Hello. My name is Andrea Elise and I live in Amarillo, Texas.

I just finished reading Nora Krug’s graphic novel, Belonging. The book whisks us across miles of Nora’s anguished searching throughout New York and numerous cities in Germany. We move past moments of panic and horror, as well as levity and insight.

Nora desperately wants to know the involvement of her family of origin in the time of the Third Reich and Hitler’s regime.

Throughout the book, Nora is on a Don Quixote-esque quest, tilting at the windmills that twirl through a century of family drama, secrets, misinterpretations and, at times, outright lies.

Nora’s drawings mirror some of the chaos she experiences on her hunt for truth. For example, the detour towards the archives of family documents is drawn like a snake: winding and treacherous.

The concept of Heimat is at the heart of the book. Heimat is described as a small defined place where you feel comfortable. This definition is not necessarily positive because feeling comfortable in a space that is as evil as Hitler’s and his followers is abominable.

Later, when Nora applies for American citizenship, she writes that she now knows what she didn’t know before….that Heimat can only be found again in memory, that it is something that only begins to exist once you’ve lost it.”

Until her quest, Nora didn’t understand what her Heimat was, where she fit into any sort of space. Where did she belong? It takes time to reconcile her family’s involvement in the war and Nazism.

Nora wonders who her family would be if the war never happened and if they would they exist if no one knew them.

This is the kind of existential question many of us ask routinely through life. Are we defined (at least in part) by others’ knowledge and opinions of us, or do we exist in a universe of our own? A heimat of which we can be proud is the root of our Belonging.

Another question Nora asks is what it takes to reconstruct a fractured family.

Interestingly, the novel begins and ends with the description of two different and very specific German adhesives.

The very first page notes Things German, No.1: Hansaplast. This is a brand of bandage developed in 1922. It was so reliable that it would not come off until a wound was entirely healed.

The very last page of the book notes Things German, No.8: Uhu. Uhu is a glue/adhesive, invented in 1932. Nora uses it on the soles of her shoes, her broken China, peeling wallpaper and many different objects.

Is Nora trying to heal her family story with metaphorical Hansaplast? Is she trying to repair her life and ancestors with Uhu? She writes that, “Even though Uhu is the strongest glue available, it cannot cover up the cracks.”

Nora leaves us with that thought to ponder. What exists in our own families that we should investigate? Is there rotten fruit on our family tree that should be tossed? Can any of our heimat be repaired to help the feeling of Belonging?

If I may add a personal note. My parents were born and grew up in Hungary.

My siblings and I didn’t know until we were adults that my father’s mother was Jewish.

She chose to send her two sons to school with Benedictine monks. My father remained a very devout Catholic until the day he died. He and my mother were devoted to their heimat. I am grateful for that and so many other non-fractured pieces in our family.

I’m Andrea Elise for the HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.

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