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10 September 2005

Anja the Liar

By Thomas Moran

"Memory is the terrible burden shouldered by the protagonists of Moran's novel, survivors of WWII who became executioners in order to live. Polish-born Anja has left her former existence behind, fleeing Krak¢w, where she betrayed Resistance fighters to the Germans. In a displaced persons camp, she meets, across a barbed wire fence, former Wehrmacht officer Walter Fass, himself forever plagued with guilt for the massacre of partisan fighters in Yugoslavia. The two make the practical decision to marry-Walter offers Anja the shelter of his uncle's Tyrolean farm, and Anja helps one-armed Walter with the farmwork - and they gradually come to feel affection for each other. The birth of their daughter brings them closer together, but just as love and honesty come to seem possible, one of Walter's wartime comrades appears on their doorstep." From Publisher's Weekly, ©2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

I am a fan of Thomas Moran's work, including his remarkably disturbing Water, Carry Me and the surreal deathbed masterpiece, The World I Made for Her. While his narratives are not as obviously creepy as those of another personal favorite, Ian McEwan, he has a way of creating fiction intent on entrapping both his characters and the imaginations of his readers. No one escapes his stories unscathed, leaving a residual taste of fear - not from an outrageous villain or an implausible situation, but from the ordinary tremors of daily life.

In this work, I especially appreciated his handling of two difficult aspects: his multi-national cast of characters and his reliance on a more obscure portion of WWII history as a significant factor in the narrative. The most significant characters were Polish, German, Austrian, Hungarian, Italian and Serbian, but I never felt that Moran was randomly throwing around nationalities and bits of language to add depth to the book. Instead, he handled their conflicting personalities, values and histories with deft skill and sympathy. Their friendships and animosities were representative of the deep wounds and difficulties inherent in post-war Europe.

As for the narrative, Moran referenced the terrible atrocities and fighting that took place in Yugoslavia throughout the war, during which patriots and partisans switched sides and turned traitor depending on who led their forces. He succinctly presented a picture of horrendous suffering and confusion without bogging down the story in superfluous details or over-examinations.

I felt, toward the more relaxed center of the book, that Anja was becoming much less "The Liar" of the title. However, her hard, unflinching shell returns with a vengeance when provoked - this time with her child at risk. I was left with a deep sense of loss and pity for these souls irretrievably ruined by the war and its aftermath, by the necessities of survival and the painful persistence of memory. Like I said, no one escaped unscathed, not even their daughter (whose birth should have represented thoughts and hopes of renewal in a Europe of peacetime).

Blogger Mircalla said...

When I read the title of this book, my mind went straight to Jurek Becker's novel (and film), Jakob der Lugner (in English, Jakob the Liar). Surprisingly, also the historical background and setting are the same: the Second World War, in a concentration camp. Jakob is German though. And the book, narrated in a story-tale style, deals with Jakob's lie that he owns a radio dispatching good news, and therefore good hope, to his comrades.
I had the occasion to get closer to the East German literature when studying for 6 months as an Erasmus student at Postdam Universitaet (Berlin). I wrote a short essay about Jacob Der Lugner. I wonder where it is--somewhere in my parents' house, I think. Anyway, I wrote it in German, something amazing to think about now.

A film similar to Jakob in theme and style, which moved my heart deeply, was "Train de Vie" (do you know it?). It is a French film dealing with the clever device a bunch of Polish people invent to save their lives. Again, it is chronicled as a story tale.


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