Last week I finished reading This House is Mine by Dörte Hansen, a debut writer. The book is translated from German by Anne Stokes. The German title is Altes Land.
The story's primary timeline follows an East Prussian refugee, Vera von Kamcke, whose mother flees with her at the end of World War II. Vera is 5-years-old when her mother leaves behind their manor house in the Mazuria Lake region to find refuge in a little farm village in the Hamburg area of Germany.
The modern timeline centers on Vera's niece, Anne, who is also a refugee of sorts, from a trendy neighborhood in Hamburg. She is newly divorced and seeking refuge with her son.
We also meet Vera's neighbors in the farm village and become acquainted with Anne's deprivations and her struggles against her parents' and her own expectations. Vera and Anne become family for one another by a common experience of displacement.
The past and present timelines alternate but the points of view didn't always stay with Vera or Anne. And within a timeline strand, the story was not always chronological. I sometimes had difficulty with that but I am interested in East Prussian history (because of my novel setting and my family genealogy) and so I stayed with the book until the end.
I enjoyed the story and have gone back to reread parts of it.
Vera's timeline intrigued me the most--her beliefs about the house she lived in, her mother's reaction to being a refugee, and Vera's manner of behaving in response to her circumstances. I appreciated the author's manner of disclosing the backstory of the specific events that happened to the mother and Vera as they fled before Stalin's army. The backstory was drizzled in just enough that I was hooked and wanted to read on to find out more.
The book also speaks to large themes: the effect of war on our ability to process (or not) our emotions, how we adapt (or not) to being marginalized, and the coping mechanisms we develop in order to survive. And ultimately it is a book about being family in the midst of loss.