Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Distant Signs by Anne Richter.
‘Distant Signs’ is an intimate portrait of two families spanning three generations amidst turbulent political change, behind and beyond the Berlin Wall.
In 1960s Germany, Margret, a professor’s daughter from the city, meets and marries Hans, from a small village in the Thuringian forest. The couple struggle to contend with their different backgrounds, and the emotional scars they bear from childhood in the aftermath of war. As East German history gradually unravels, with collision of the personal and political, acutely observed vignettes quietly reveal their two families’ hidden truths.’
Distant Signs follows the two main protagonists, Margret and Hans, from their childhoods, through their young adult lives, and into their older years. We follow them through school, meeting and marrying each other, and having children, and grandchildren.
Distant Signs is really a story about families, and perseverance through the struggles that families face together.
Hans and Margret do not have a happy marriage. Hans is unsure of how to be around his wife. Brought up in a home with few luxuries but plenty of love and warmth, he wants, and expects, some affection from Margret, similar to the bond he saw between his own parents, Erwin and Rene. Rene dedicated her life to carrying the family when her husband lost the use of his legs.
Margret however, was brought up in a family where she and her sisters were seen almost as additional ‘household help’, in a slightly colder family, with a distant father. Rosa, her elder sister, was depended on a lot to look after her younger sisters, while her mother waited for their father to be released from prison. Her father, a professor, didn’t have much time for his family even when released, and Margret felt almost estranged from him. She, in turn, is cold in her own marriage, and has expectations of Hans and is unforgiving and mocking if they aren’t met. Their upbringings are reflected in their interactions with their parents, and their relationships with their children.
Distant Signs is a subtle, understated novel. The political and historical events that are taking place during the story’s timeline are certainly mentioned, and at times do affect the family and their acquaintances, but they are not integral to the family and their story.
It is interesting to watch the characters grow as people, and see how their behaviours change as they grow older, and as the world around them changes. Both well educated people, who went on to become educators themselves in their separate fields, Hans and Margret seem to learn more from their children, particularly their rebellious daughter, Sonja, than from any of their books. She teaches them, especially her mother, how to open their minds, and from this, eventually, the bond between Hans and Margret begins to grow.
Richter does an impressive job of weaving the story of these two families together through the years. It’s a subtle book, as I mentioned before, with no dramatic events, no explosive climax, just an intricate story of people brought together, having to figure out how to get through life as best they can.
I did enjoy this book – I think it’s well written, the author obviously knows her characters, and it does come to a satisfying and neat conclusion, but it is not the type of book I would usually try. However, despite this, I can appreciate the story, and it was refreshing to read a book outside of my usual preferences.
About The Author
Anne Richter was born in 1973 in Jena, in the former German Democratic Republic. Her degree in Romance languages and English included study periods in England, Italy and France. In 2011, Anne was nominated for the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize, a highly regarded German-language literary award. Her debut novel, Distant Signs, was published in Germany in 2013. Anne is currently writing her second novel.
Thanks to Anne Cater and Neem Tree Press for inviting me to be a part of the book tour for Distant Signs, and for supplying me with a copy of the book in return for a fair and honest review.