Written by Jo McMillan

1978 is not long ago, but the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) is already history, so I have accepted this as an historical novel. It is narrated in the first person by a teenage girl, 13 years old in 1978, who is clearly, to some extent, the author herself. Like the narrator, she was, in 1978, the only teenage Communist in Tamworth (a small town in the English Midlands).

This is a delightful tragi-comic novel, primarily about a mother/daughter relationship (hence the title) and also about coming of age and disillusionment. The narrator’s mother is a diehard Communist at a time when Communism was deeply unfashionable in England. Invited to a summer school in East Berlin the duo find themselves briefly on the right side of history. Over several visits the mother finds love and the daughter finds friendship. They lose both to the paranoia of the State and the pressure to conform. The mother accepts her loss while the daughter starts a new life in London.

Motherland combines a teenager’s cold-eyed view of adult absurdities and a wistfulness for lost certainties; a compelling blend.