Meike's Reviews > Herzklappen von Johnson & Johnson

Herzklappen von Johnson & Johnson by Valerie Fritsch
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really liked it
bookshelves: austria, 2020-read, 2020-dbp

Now Longlisted for the German Book Prize 2020
Fritsch's rather short text is a lyrical meditation on intergenerational trauma and pain, both physical and psychological. We meet four generations of a family: The grandparents are traumatized by WW II where the grandfather not only became guilty, but also lived through a Russian prison camp as a POW -the war turned him into a broken man, and he's the one with the title-giving artificial heart valves. The generation of the parents is entrapped by passive-aggressiveness and a lack of love, while their child, our main character Alma (Latin for "soul"), dreams of a full life as a child, only to become deeply disillusioned. Alma, an illustrator, gives birth to a child who looks like the grandfather and is unable to physically feel pain.

Needless to say, this text mainly relies on its metaphors and allegories which are presented in a dense, heavy language. There is no dialogue, and the narrative restraint that dictates pure descriptiveness is only sometimes permeated by some very indirect speech. This approach evokes a feeling of suffocation, of a thick emotional fog that veils the characters, which is of course fitting. I needed some time to get into Fritsch's language because it is so particular, but once you get the hang of it, it flows very nicely.

Fritsch's main topic is how pain and guilt travel from one generation to the next, and what it does to people. As this is a lyrical, allusive, atmospheric text, the reader needs some tolerance for vagueness and a storyline that hardly deserves the term. Towards the end, the book becomes a little lengthy, but the playful ending of this dark read managed to made me laugh. An interesting text that puts readers to work.

(As an aside: Did the person at Suhrkamp who wrote the description of the book actually read it? The advertisement raises false expectations, which will lead to readers becoming upset - this nonsense will harm the book's reception.)

You can learn more about the book in this regular podcast episode, and you can listen to the Papierstau Podcast Book Prize Battle Royale, #1 (in German).
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Reading Progress

May 7, 2020 – Shelved
May 7, 2020 – Shelved as: to-read
May 12, 2020 – Started Reading
May 12, 2020 – Shelved as: austria
May 13, 2020 – Shelved as: 2020-read
May 13, 2020 – Finished Reading
August 18, 2020 – Shelved as: 2020-dbp

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