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An Ordinary Youth by Walter Kempowski
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An Ordinary Youth

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An Ordinary Youth by Walter Kempowski
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Nov 14, 2023 | ISBN 9781681377209

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    Nov 14, 2023 | ISBN 9781681377209

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“Drawing on his own youth in Nazi Germany, Kempowski introduces us to a fictional version of his 9-year-old self, a disturbingly matter-of-fact observer of a ‘normal’ life of boyhood games and crushes and schemes in which the horrors of wartime are either held at bay or treated as thrilling adventures.” —Alida Becker, The New York Times Book Review 

“This is a book preoccupied with innocence—both real and imagined. Readers know that outside, the Nazi government is engineering atrocities. But An Ordinary Youth makes it difficult to decode what the adults really think. Lipkin has taken pains to render Kempowski’s rich trove of German references legible for an English audience, arguing that the book’s moral core lies in these linguistic choices.” —Mythili G. Rao, Financial Times

“The book – whether or not it is right to call it a novel is one of the many questions that it poses – consists of continuously relayed fragments of Kempowski’s youthful memories from the late 1930s to the fall of Berlin….This book feels horribly timely as a renewed posing of the question of what horrors we are willing to accept as normal.”—Joe Moshenska, The Guardian

“Kempowski was forged in the war, and the war never left him. He made it his business that it wouldn’t leave anybody else…Mr. Lipkin does a fine job of rendering the frequent reported speech—supported in the German with modals and subjunctives—into something navigable in English…Walter finds his analogue in Anne Frank, another bookish teenager caught up in Hitler’s war, still concerned about her appearance and desires. The fateful gulf between the two lurks omnipresent in a novel that is laced with bitter irony and shaded, discreetly, with horror.” —Toby Lichtig, The Wall Street Journal

An Ordinary Youth, first published in Germany in 1971, is set in Rostock, where in 1948 Kempowski, his mother, and his brother were arrested on charges of espionage…But the plot here is far more ordinary, despite the extraordinary context…His loving family talks and Walter absorbs the culture of his time, which translator Lipkin brings to life…Told through one family’s story, this is an effective portrait of bourgeois complicity.” —Booklist

“What was it like to grow up in Nazi Germany? In the autobiographical novel that made him famous, Walter Kempowski shows that it was completely ‘ordinary’—and for that very reason, deeply uncanny. Doing justice to both the innocence of the boy he was and the moral judgment of the man he became, Kempowski creates an appealing and appalling case study in the banality of evil.” —Adam Kirsch

“Fascinating and disturbing. Kempowski plunges the reader into the already running tide of one of history’s great horrors so that we see it as if from within. . . . An unflinchingly honest re-creation of a time and place that still beggars understanding.” —Carol Birch

“Compellingly immersive in all its intensely evocative detail, sometimes very funny, sometimes not funny at all, An Ordinary Youth reveals once again Kempowski’s extraordinary gift for showing how lives are lived in the narrow confines of the quotidian even as mighty forces are rumbling in the background and preparing to overturn and perhaps destroy those lives. The appalling events of mid-twentieth-century Europe have been the subject matter of many fine writers: arguably none more truthful to the unsentimental, unheroic reality of the lived experience than Kempowski.” —David Kynaston

“First published the year I was born, this book was a favourite in my family, both for its humour and its unflinching eye on Third Reich Germans. I grew up with Kempowski’s idioms and eccentric phrasings passed around the table at dinner.  For decades, the novel was considered too idiosyncratic to work in translation, but Michael Lipkin has pulled off a masterstroke, retaining the sense of being inside Walter’s head: the boy in the midst of events, understanding little, but capturing everything in snippets of sound and image and experience.” —Rachel Seiffert

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