Marzahn, Mon Amour
A woman approaching the invisible years of middle age abandons her failing writing career to retrain as a chiropodist in the suburb of Marzahn, once the GDRs largest prefabricated housing estate, on the outskirts of Berlin. From her intimate vantage point at the foot of the clinic chair, she keenly observes her clients and co-workers, delving into their personal histories with all their quirks and vulnerabilities. Each story stands alone as a beautifully crafted vignette, told with humour and poignancy; together they form a nuanced and tender portrait of a community. Part memoir, part collective history, Katja Oskamps love letter to the inhabitants of Marzahn is a stunning reflection on lifes progression and our ability to forge connections in the unlikeliest of places.
Comments from the Judges
“Man shall not live by feet alone.” This funny, thoughtful, heartfelt portrayal of a community is observed through the unusual perspective of the chiropodist kneeling at its feet. Our narrator is a woman who finds her career as a writer faltering, and decides to switch profession. “The middle years, when you’re neither young nor old,” she reflects, “are fuzzy years. You can no longer see the shore you started from, but you can’t yet get a clear enough view of the shore you’re heading for. You spend these years thrashing about in the middle of a big lake, out of breath, flagging from the tedium of swimming…” and so she turns to a new role as chiropodist in Marzahn, Berlin, where she finds herself listening intently to her clients. In these ostensibly mundane moments of care and conversation, she discovers that they each reveal something of themselves, their disappointments, their loves, their vulnerabilities, their rages, their joys. A sequence of portraits unfolds, in which each person who sits in the chiropodist’s chair is evoked with a gentle tenderness. As the novel progresses, we meet character after character as the narrator does, through their feet, and through this slow, deliberate culmination of vignettes, nimbly translated by Jo Heinrich, a greater portrait is achieved, that of how individuals are inevitably shaped by the ever-turning cogs of the machine of history. Readers, you’ve never read a book like this; expect to find yourself laughing aloud one moment, and deeply moved the next.
NOMINATING LIBRARY COMMENTS
It is a book that allows a deep insight into the daily lives of the so called ordinary people. The author treats each of them with respect and approaches with careful empathy.