Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman
The timespan of this beautifully written and translated novella is less than an hour — the time it takes for Liese to walk from the German-run convent in WWII Rome to church — and it takes little longer than an hour to read. In those brief minutes, however, the reader is transported to another world, and another time.
A very pregnant Liese has been told by her doctor that it’s healthy to walk, and the sisters at the convent allow her to go to church in the afternoons; it had taken months to obtain the paperwork necessary to allow her to leave Bavaria and join her husband, Gert, in Rome, where he was stationed while recovering from a war injury. By the time she arrived, Gert had been re-mobilized and had to leave the next day for Africa, his leg unhealed, and his wife pregnant.
Her walk to the church encompasses not only the memories of her brief time with Gert, but also an incredibly rich look at life in Rome, now, during the war, and in the past, through the history which is written on the paving stones, in the buildings, in the statues, and in the people themselves. The pictures, the sounds, the smells, come tumbling through the text, partly as Liese’s inner thoughts, and partly as observations of her surroundings. The breathless pace is further accentuated by the format of the novella, which quickly reveals itself to be all one sentence. The reader has to consciously slow down, and pause with each comma, each internal question asked by Liese, to even begin to absorb all the images and meanings in this wondrous book.