Jerichow (YEHR-ee-kov). Seaside town in East Germany’s Mecklenburg state (not to be confused with the real town of Jerichow in Saxony-Anhalt). Once a rural town, owned mostly by a single noble family, Jerichow has “a thousand and one houses along the Mecklenburg stretch of the Baltic coast, with the wind blowing stark and dark all year round.” The town’s church dates back to Saxon times, with Romanesque and Gothic architectural features revealing how it was built in stages. Gabled houses surround the marketplace and are relics of the elegance and affluence of earlier times. Now, they are subdivided because of the acute postwar housing shortage and because the First German State of the Workers and Peasants has eradicated the ruling class. The castle that rises from the forest near Jerichow is regarded as a memorial to exploitation and is now used as a home for the elderly. Jöche’s young family lives in two sublet rooms separated by a hall, with three parties sharing the kitchen. Many people are still housed in barracks.
Johnson creates a sense of place in Jerichow that transcends the town’s present problems. For example, the residents’ language does not change overnight, and the novel’s original German text contains many remarks in the local Mecklenburg dialect. Similarly, the efficient East German secret police agent Herr Rohlfs uses topographic maps from the discredited fascist German Reich because the “gracefully undulating landscape” remains the same. The fertile region was populated by Germanic settlers a millennium...
(The entire section is 648 words.)