Part of my 'understanding Germany' list of books--though it barely qualifies, since it's written by an American. The story is the relationship betweenPart of my 'understanding Germany' list of books--though it barely qualifies, since it's written by an American. The story is the relationship between a post-WWII German artist (that generation for whom the historical implications of Nazism are still nascent and still half hidden, unlike years later) and what the writer positions as his 'muse', though for me the word doesn't really convey the connection. This girl is, a tad too conveniently, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors: she the link between the two, innocent as it is or should be, posits one against the other and vice-versa. Said link is the elephant in the room, and it is not an elephant that can be easily ignored.
As always with these stories, the moral underpinning is: How far does collective guilt go? How far SHOULD it go? If your grandparents were Nazis and my grandparents were concentration-camp Jews, are you my enemy and am I your victim? Or none of the above? And as always, I'm fascinated by the moral interplay--and its continual correlation to love, power, desire and self-awareness (or lack thereof). One could take and juxtapose almost the same paradigm to so many different situations: the post-segregation South in the US, for example. And I happened to have experienced a little of it, in my own life, so it rings true.
Which brings me to the deepest, most complex, troubling and possibly painful aspect of collective guilt: how does it finally vanish or, if not, how does it get passed down the generations? An evil grandfather so easily corrupts his child who, as a parent, in turn corrupts the children who follow. The human psyche is fragile and quite readily malleable: it will believe pretty much anything at the right age and under the right set of circumstances, or brainwashing.
Once, when I was a teen, I fell in love with a sexy 'older man' (25!) who was--in hindsight--obviously unsuitable. My father has horrified but had brought me up to know my own mind. The possibility that 'my own mind' would lead me straight to an asshole, though, horrified him even more. He did everything he could to dissuade without coming right out with it--or forbidding me, which would of course have made it worse--and only lost it when time passed and nothing worked. So one day, unable to bear it any longer, he sat me down and told me that this young man's family were known Nazis (they were), dictatorship collaborators (also) and anti-Semites (ditto). 'I'm not Jewish," I said, confused. 'Your mother's father's father was Jewish, and that's enough for an anti-Semite,' my dad said. 'One day in the middle of a fight he'll lose control and call you a fucking Jew.' I was horrified--but at my dad, whom at that moment I saw as old-fashioned and outdated. However, only a few weeks later, this guy and I indeed had an awful fight and he did indeed 'lose control' and call me a 'fucking Jew.'
And this is exactly what 'Blue Nude' reminded me of as I read it.
And yet, the novel has not entirely convinced me, which is why I haven't yet decided how many stars to give it. ...more