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Book Review: Belonging by Nora Krug

The most uncomfortable histories are the most worthy of preservation. This idea becomes especially clear in Belonging: A German Recons with History and Home. Author Nora Krug is haunted by the sins that her German ancestors may or may not have committed.

Did they contribute to or did they rally against the horrors of the Holocaust? She feels her Heimat (the landscape which forms one’s identity and sense of com- munity) connected to this single question.

To find answers, and in turn herself, Krug embarks on an exhaustive search in southeast Germany. Here she finds echos of her uncle and her deceased grandparents. Krug also collects images, trinkets, docu- ments and oral histories which help her piece together the past largely unknown to her and her entire genera- tion.

These clues are displayed in a beautiful combination of collage and illustration. When the author refrains from writing about her emotions, her images illustrate them plainly. Faces fade into the background, the landscape turns black. Krug excels at building suspense around the puzzle of her family tree. The reader flips through the beautiful and haunting pages hoping too that she can solve the mystery that has become her obsession.

Krug edits her life well for the purpose of these pages. The fact that she is married to an American Jewish man is mentioned but her husband does not appear as a main character. Although the reader under- stands that her marriage is a factor in this quest, she remains focused on her research in Germany and the characters there.

Other heavy truths are handled with an equally light touch. She mentions this fact only once, but it stays with the reader long after: “The 2017 national election in Germany gave rise to a new right wing party. The extreme right has claimed seats again in parliament again, for the first time in more than half a century.“ Given the political climate the world finds itself catapulted into 75 years after the Holocaust, it is not a surprise that Belonging has won nine awards including the National Book Critics Circle Award and was mentioned by the New York Times as one of the best memoirs of this decade.

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