Ralph Rothman – Night Under the Snow – SWR2

With the touching novel Night Under the Snow, Ralph Rothman builds on his bestselling works Death in Spring and The God of That Summer. The story, again based on a family autobiography, centers on the child of farmworker Elizabeth, who is raped by invading soldiers at the end of World War II and, after 1945, anxiously searching for self-affirmation and fleeting moments. His Excellency.

Elizabeth’s son looks back at his mother’s life with sad helplessness

The novel begins with a flashback: In “the winter before the end of the last war,” as the first few lines say, sixteen-year-old Elizabeth, working on a farm, escapes from bombed Gdansk through snow-covered country. in an uncertain future.

The girl has a fever, and she sits with the exhausted Volksstorm men in a rickety rickshaw driver’s cab. Dreaming of milk, a castle and a prince. The journey of anything but fairy tales to the West will soon be over. It is only later that we find out where Elizabeth ends up, although it is abundantly clear that her dream will not come true.

It is therefore not surprising at the beginning of the next chapter, set decades later, after Elizabeth’s death, that her son looks back at his mother’s life with sad helplessness.

“She has been without help, I am afraid, and perhaps people with particularly painful pasts cannot help themselves: they numb themselves at every moment, even with work, because they know they are more or less doomed, regardless of any bad experiences, We need our confidence to succeed.”
(From Ralph Rothman: Night Under the Snow)

Working on a family biographical trilogy couldn’t be easy for the author

Wolf, the adult son of Elizabeth and Walter, wrote these lines to Louisa, a friend of the couple who died in the meantime, and as soon as the names were mentioned in the text, Ralph Rothman read The Two Wars Before and After—War novels will remember the fate of the characters, perhaps fragmentarily at first, but after That’s more clearly.

Working on the family biographical trilogy, dealing with recurring experiences of violence, couldn’t have been easy for the author: Rothman took his time before publishing the book on the mother’s life and a volume of stories – as if he still needed some distance to tell. The story of this to end such contrasts appropriately.

In fact, it is also advisable to stay on the specified memory path, that is, to read “Die im Frühling” first and learn about Walter’s dark past, which is only alluded to in the following books. Not only the abyss of this character is central to the understanding of events, but also the knowledge of the wartime youth of Louisa, depicted in The God of That Summer, makes reading the new novel easier.

We deal with Elizabeth mainly from the perspective of her friend Louisa

Aside from short passages from her son’s letters and regularly scattered scenes of war written in the third person, we treat Elizabeth in The Night Under the Snow primarily from Louisa’s perspective. She was touched by her self-confident friend, but she also recognized her deep wounds, for example when she flinched as soon as drunk men in uniform approached her.

“But at last she made up for her fear with the cheek, or rather she deceived herself with her fear. She had a soft spot for sailors in white shirts and polished shoes.”
(From Ralph Rothman: Night Under the Snow)

It’s part of Elizabeth’s irony that she adores those people who remind her of the worst times. Russian soldiers raped her several times in a gloomy wooden shed. Seriously wounded, she ran away from the tormentors. Then another Russian nursed her to health in an underground bunker. She survived, although on some nights under the snow she would have wished for death.

After being raped by Russian soldiers, there is no balance in Elizabeth’s life

Since then there has been no balance in her affected life. After the war, she seemed almost greedy for happiness, trying not to miss any amusement, as if she deserved constant pleasure as a kind of balancing act of justice. But she collapses again and again and attempts suicide, all over the place in her employer’s office.

Elizabeth waits for tables at the sea casino in Kiel Harbour, which will soon be converted into the new Ministry of Social Affairs canteen and run by Louisa’s mother. There she also meets Walter, will marry him after a long courtship, and even follow him to a farm with a weary dairy farmer, though she prefers to stay in the city.

“(…) Herein lies the crux of the disappointment, indeed of the drama, in which the two were living. Because Walter, originally from the Ruhr, did not want to be anywhere other than a remote farm in the country.”
(From Ralph Rothman: Night Under the Snow)

Instead of talking together about their experience during the war, the couple chose the path of oppression

Repeatedly Elizabeth betrays her well-meaning and hard-working husband, who suspects something, but does not complain. It is a loveless marriage of two desolate people who need each other. Perhaps it would have been helpful for the unhappy couple to talk about their experiences during the war together. Both choose the path of oppression, which not only their son Wolf will suffer.

Luisa describes the wrong turns of her friend with understanding, but she is in no way loyal to her side. She has had Walter’s feelings of practicality and handsomeness since she was a child, and when she finally had a chance to go to bed with the guy, she didn’t behave any better than her often criticizing friend.

Leaving the bedroom door ajar, his child, thumb in his mouth, asleep in the faint glow of the bedside lamp, I lifted my cover and moved to the side (…). Everything seemed to come naturally and went almost to a drowsy, as if everyone deserved Long ago the body of the other.”
(From Ralph Rothman: Night Under the Snow)

But sex is neither tender nor satisfying, and Louisa finally realizes that she must abandon Walter and take a different path. Unlike Elizabeth, she will free herself from the deep-rooted desires and trauma of the war to which she has been subjected.

The novel develops into a great panorama of the economic boom years

Meanwhile, old friends have to leave the farm because the landlady accuses Elizabeth of theft. Walter returns to the Ruhr, although he no longer wants to live in his homeland. But working in the mines pays well, and Walter is okay with hard work because he can hide himself and his suffering underground. Although Elizabeth complains about soot in the air at every opportunity, she loves to spend nights in smoke-filled ballrooms.

Luisa rarely visits the two, as they are frozen in their unhappy roles. The novel, which initially described the various attempts of the heroes, traumatized by the war, to find their way into the new peace order, soon developed into a great panorama of the economic boom years.

It is the linguistic details that make the novel a successful conclusion to the trilogy

When Elizabeth has to undergo cancer treatment, the son talks about “radiation of pain.” A mother’s life can be fully described in this one term. In any case, it is the linguistic details that make the novel a successful conclusion to the trilogy. Ralph Rothman has often worked in the previous two parts with surreal scenes and references to history books of past wars.

“The Night Under the Snow” is more conservative when it comes to choosing aesthetics. Rothman focuses on the “little wild mother” who once said of herself: “Longing changes molecules.” Something inside this woman had really mutated, perhaps less because of an unfulfilled longing, but rather because of her devastating experiences of war. It is inconceivable that this woman, instead of learning from her own suffering, is passing on her frustration to her offspring – which means that this character is definitely representative of an entire generation of mothers.

“In childhood she would beat us up at every opportunity; she smashed wooden spoons on us, for mostly nothing, a weed stain on Sunday pants, and spilled milk. Every trifle was her welcome opportunity to vent her secret pain (…).”
(From Ralph Rothman: Night Under the Snow)

Being innocently guilty: a theme that runs through the entire Rothmans trilogy

Several passages in the novel describing the excesses of outright violence, both on the battlefield and in the family, are reminiscent of the Russian barbarian war against Ukraine. Many dead, wounded, and mentally maimed will likely leave their suffering to posterity. become innocent culprits; A theme that runs through the entire Rothman trilogy.

In addition to the social and political dimension of his prose, the author always conducts literary field research. Just as Louisa uses Rilke’s poetry to free herself from the past, Rothman has managed to develop an autobiographical story that never trusts established narrative patterns. Rothman’s work, as influential as it is enlightening, bears witness to the healing power of literature without wanting to confirm a tyrannical claim to truth.

The Rothman Trilogy is a complete masterpiece of literary history

The central figures in his family history are described in the three books with a different focus and always from different points of view. Thus, the manipulation of sometimes contradictory views of biographies is part of the aesthetic and political program of this always self-critical prose. Only in interaction does a distinct whole work of literary historiography appear.

In the context of the novel, Ralph Rothman called himself Wolff—perhaps because he suspected his family’s literary reasoning was in no way an act of writing carrying.

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