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Motherland

Cover of Motherland

Motherland

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Motherland is inspired by stories from the author's father and his German childhood, and letters between her grandparents that were hidden in an attic wall for fifty years. It is the author's attempt to reckon with the paradox of her father—a product of her grandparents' fiercely protective love and their status as Mitläufer, Germans who “went along" with Nazism, first reaping its benefits and later its consequences.
This page-turning novel focuses on the Kappus family: Frank is a reconstructive surgeon who lost his beloved wife in childbirth and two months later married a young woman who must look after the baby and his two grieving sons when he is drafted into medical military service. Alone in the house, Liesl must attempt to keep the children fed with dwindling food supplies, safe from the constant Allied air attacks, and protected against the swell of desperate refugees flooding their town. When one child begins to mentally unravel, Liesl must discover the source of the boy's infirmity or lose him forever to Hadamar, the infamous hospital for “unfit" children. The novel bears witness to the shame and courage of Third Reich families during the devastating last days of the war, as each family member's fateful choices lead them deeper into questions of complicity and innocence, to the novel's heartbreaking and unforgettable conclusion.

Motherland is inspired by stories from the author's father and his German childhood, and letters between her grandparents that were hidden in an attic wall for fifty years. It is the author's attempt to reckon with the paradox of her father—a product of her grandparents' fiercely protective love and their status as Mitläufer, Germans who “went along" with Nazism, first reaping its benefits and later its consequences.
This page-turning novel focuses on the Kappus family: Frank is a reconstructive surgeon who lost his beloved wife in childbirth and two months later married a young woman who must look after the baby and his two grieving sons when he is drafted into medical military service. Alone in the house, Liesl must attempt to keep the children fed with dwindling food supplies, safe from the constant Allied air attacks, and protected against the swell of desperate refugees flooding their town. When one child begins to mentally unravel, Liesl must discover the source of the boy's infirmity or lose him forever to Hadamar, the infamous hospital for “unfit" children. The novel bears witness to the shame and courage of Third Reich families during the devastating last days of the war, as each family member's fateful choices lead them deeper into questions of complicity and innocence, to the novel's heartbreaking and unforgettable conclusion.

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About the Author-
  • Maria Hummel is the author of the novels Wilderness Run and House and Fire(Copper Canyon, 2013), winner of the APR/Honickman First Book prize in poetry. Her poetry and prose have appeared in Poetry, New England Review, Ploughshares, The Sun, and The Believer. Her work was also featured in the 2012 Pushcart Prize anthology, and she was a finalist in Narrative's second Annual Poetry Contest. A former Stegner Fellow in Poetry, Hummel is a Jones Lecturer at Stanford University and lives with her husband and sons in San Francisco

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from October 21, 2013
    Fear, grief, and the will to survive fuse in this beautiful novel about the inner life of a German family in the final months of World War II. Inspired by letters written by Hummel’s (House and Fire) paternal grandparents and her father’s childhood in a war-torn Germany, Motherland occupies a relatively unexplored space in World War II literature, in which political sympathies and oppositions are vastly less important than finding enough tinder to keep the children warm or figuring out when to take an ailing child to the doctor. When Dr. Frank Kappus, a widower, is drafted into medical military service, he leaves behind his three sons with their brand new stepmother, Liesl. She does everything within her power to nurture the two grieving boys and the infant now in her care, including stretching their meager rations into filling meals and assuaging their fears of Allied bombings. The job becomes drastically more difficult when two refugee families are moved into the family’s house and six-year-old Ani’s constant stomachaches turn into something far more serious. Frank, working as a reconstructive surgeon 250 km away, is confronted daily with horrific battlefield injuries. The humiliations and guilt that each family member endures for the others are described with grace and humanity in this absorbing story. While stunningly intimate, Motherland is expansive in feeling and scope. Extending beyond a simple historical drama, this book is a reminder of the reach of love, how it can blind, and how it can heal. Agent: Gail Hochman, Brandt & Hochman Literary.

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