Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Angel Of Oblivion by Maja Haderlap

Angel Of Oblivion by Maja Haderlap
First published in German as Engel Des Vergessens in 2012. English translation by Tess Lewis published by Archipelago Books today: 30th August 2016.

One of my WorldReads from Austria

Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy the ebook from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

'The novel tells the story of a family from the Slovenian minority in Austria. The first-person narrator starts off with her childhood memories of rural life, in a community anchored in the past. Yet behind this rural idyll, an unresolved conflict is smouldering. At first, the child wonders about the border to Yugoslavia, which runs not far away from her home. Then gradually the stories that the adults tell at every opportunity start to make sense. All the locals are scarred by the war. Her grandfather, we find out, was a partisan fighting the Nazis from forest hideouts. Her grandmother was arrested and survived Ravensbrück.
As the narrator grows older, she finds out more. Through conversations at family gatherings and long nights talking to her grandmother, she learns that her father was arrested by the Austrian police and tortured - at the age of ten - to extract information on the whereabouts of his father. Her grandmother lost her foster-daughter and many friends and relatives in Ravensbrück and only escaped the gas chamber by hiding inside the camp itself. The narrator begins to notice the frequent suicides and violent deaths in her home region, and she develops an eye for how the Slovenians are treated by the majority of German-speaking Austrians. As an adult, the narrator becomes politicised and openly criticises the way in which Austria deals with the war and its own Nazi past. In the closing section, she visits Ravensbrück and finds it strangely lifeless - realising that her personal memories of her grandmother are stronger.
Illuminating an almost forgotten chapter of European history and the European present, the book deals with family dynamics scarred by war and torture - a dominant grandmother, a long-suffering mother, a violent father who loves his children but is impossible to live with. And interwoven with this is compelling reflection on storytelling: the narrator hoping to rid herself of the emotional burden of her past and to tell stories on behalf of those who cannot.'

Although Angel Of Oblivion is fiction, it reads so much like memoir that it was difficult for me to separate Haderlap herself from our young narrator. I don't know how close this story is to her actual childhood. The book is not an easy read and I often struggled to follow what passes for its storyline. Both the grandmother and the father are psychologically scarred from their wartime experiences and so we frequently jump around in time as memories of the past are triggered. I was reminded of a French book, Brodeck's Report by Philippe Claudel, which also examines the mental damage of the Second World War on survivors of a community where horrific violence took place.

I particularly appreciated Haderlap's poetic writing as she describes the physical appearance of people, farms and the natural world with the isolated valley of our narrator's youth. The destruction and decay of these homes and communities is heartbreaking to read about and, while I don't think Angel Of Oblivion will be a strongly memorable book in itself, I have found myself repeatedly returning to think about one of its strong themes since I have finished reading. The Slovenian community in Austria, fighting and dying as partisans during the war, were on the 'winning side' yet in later years as an ethnic minority in Austria, a country which generally embraced Nazism, they find their experiences and culture suppressed by the majority population who would prefer not to be reminded of this time in their past.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Maja Haderlap / War books / Books from Austria


  1. Gorgeous that this novel of the 2011 Austrian winner of the prestigeous Ingeborg Bachmann Prize has finally been translated into English! And it even seems to be a good translation. Even better!

    I loved Engel des Vergessesn by Maja Haderlap and would have equally loved to review it on Edith's Micellany when I launched my blog just before Christmas 2012, but since there was no English translation...

    It's true that Haderlap's language is poetic, but then she wrote mainly poetry before this semi-autobiographical novel. Moreover, she was known above all as a writer in Slovenian. Amazing that she can write with much the same skill in German, isn't it?

    At any rate, thanks for your review!

    LaGraziana @ Edith's Miscellany

    1. I wish I had kept up my languages because I would have loved to have read this in the original German. The translation is good though and I didn't notice any clunky phrases - quite a feat with such poetic writing!