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BookMark: "Belonging" By Nora Krug

Maria Burchill reviews "Belonging."

Lynd Ward BookMark Review 2019: "Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home”

The impact of World War II is fading from our collective memory. At least, this feels true to me, living in the U.S. as I do. We’re far removed from the everyday, passive reminders of the horrors and losses suffered under the Nazi regime. In Germany, however, four generations of citizens born since the end of the war, are reminded of it daily. They’ve grown up with the knowledge that their countrymen committed such crimes against humanity. They know that forgiveness is hard and forgetting is impossible. Nora Krug’s “Belonging” is an examination of both personal and cultural culpability.

“Belonging” is a graphic memoir. It’s a scrapbook-styled collection of cartoon-ish illustrations, handwritten prose, and reproductions of photographs and letters. In it, Krug seeks to uncover her family’s association with the war and the Nazi party. She’s searching for something she believes is lost to Germans, after adult citizens were investigated and declared to be “major offenders, offenders, followers, or exonerated.” She’s looking for “Heimat.”

Heimat is a German word that doesn’t have an English equivalent. We might translate it as patriotism or national pride, but it describes more than that. Krug is looking for a national identity that might live alongside the nation’s “collective guilt.” Krug’s struggle to recapture this identity is palpable and made more thought-provoking as she discovers her own grandfather declared himself a “Mitläufer,” a “person lacking courage and moral stance.” As a granddaughter, how difficult must it be to discover this admission? The beauty of this book is that Krug asks herself these questions, but never answers them directly. The reader must seek their own answers. How long should guilt last? Does blame lessen with time and the passing of generations? Every reader can relate to these questions and few will have easy answers.

Krug’s poetic language, and her assemblage of fading photographs, letters, and vibrant illustrations evoke a palimpsest of history and memory. Employing collage in tandem with her personal illustration style, Krug negotiates historical space with her own artistic vision. The result is rich storytelling. She winnows a human connection out of loss and reckoning. The book brings tears to the eyes even while the reader reaches for a magnifying lens to examine the fine details of a record or photograph. Part diary, part archival record, the outcome is both deeply personal, thought-provoking, and educational.

In addition to being the Lynd Ward Prize Winner for Best Graphic Novel, “Belonging” was named Best Book of the Year by The New York Times, NPR, and Library Journal.

Maria Burchill is the head of adult services at the Schlow Centre Region Library.

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