Sunday, 10 November 2013
I came across this book for £1 in my favourite Charing X Rd bookshop a few weeks ago. Its publication earlier this year had passed me by but I picked it up because I recognised the author's name. Meike Ziervogel is the beautiful and glamorous founder of Peirene Press, specialising in elegantly designed paperback translations of European novellas that - wait for it - can be be read in less than two hours. So I came away with Magda purely out of curiosity.
What a desperately bleak and terrible read it is in only 113 pages ... Magda is Magda Goebbels and this is a fictionalised explanation of how she came to kill her six children in Hitler's bunker, made all too logical by her vision of what their lives would become in defeat. Meike Ziervogel says that she could only find distance from it by writing in English but to me this had such an intensity that I could hardly believe that it wasn't written in German.
It reminded me of Veronique Olmi's Beside the Sea, another raw and achingly painful novel about a mother killing her children that was the first novel on Peirene's list. I saw it also as a powerful one-woman play that was brilliant but left me wrung out for days afterwards.
These are not the kind of books you recommend. My book group refused to read Beside the Sea. But it is one of the most powerful, gut-wrenching novels that I have ever read.