Pickle to Pie
The premise of this “based on fact, veiled in fiction” novel is similar to Anne Landsman’s The Rowing Lesson: an elderly man dying in the hospital, unable to communicate with his children, reviews his life. In Whitting’s case, the narrative is much cleaner, with no confusion as to who is speaking and what time period is being relived.
Frederick Fritschenburg is a second-generation Australian who was raised by his Grossmutter and Grossvater after being rejected by his mother. It was Grossmutter who decided she and her family must leave Germany after a family tragedy, and in Australia she mourns the loss of her home country, and who instills in Fredi the ways of late 19th-century Europe: healing illnesses with herbs, reading the Bible, venerating one’s elders. Fredi, however, is confronted by current events, which early on include taunts and beatings from his classmates for being of German descent, his exclusion from his mother’s new family, and later, two world wars and the conflicted emotions surrounding them.
The episodes in Fredi’s life, such as picking herbs by the railroad tracks with Grossmutter, looking for work during the Depression until his feet bled, and his struggle to unite his upbringing with the present day, are all deftly told. Even though much of Fredi’s life is difficult, with many painful episodes, Whitting maintains a positive tone, showing the reader that Fredi did indeed live, grow, and make peace with his family, both past and present.