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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 511

The story of Garden, Ashes is narrated by Andreas (“Andi”) Scham in a series of loosely connected reminiscences about his childhood. At the beginning of the novel, he is a five-year-old boy who remembers vividly the incomprehensible happenings around him: the constant comings and goings, the changing places in which he lives, the numerous older relatives whom he cannot quite remember, and the mysterious disappearances of his father, Eduard Scham. Only later does Andi fully understand these happenings; at the time, surrounded by an aura of anxiety and even fear, he tries simply to cope with them and to understand their meaning, though the fact that his fertile imagination frequently blows things out of proportion does not help. As an obedient child, he follows the adults’ orders instinctively, aware of the fateful nature of the happenings around him. Andi never mentions explicitly the war going on around him, yet he senses that his Jewish father, a former railroad official, is being harassed and hunted for reasons the child cannot yet understand.

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Andi is comforted by his steadfast mother, Maria Scham, and his older sister, Anna, who, though yet a child herself, is able to cope slightly better with the ominous events. It is his mother whom he trusts and understands. Although Maria never tries to explain the true nature of the traumatic events happening to them, the two tacitly understand each other. In such a gloomy atmosphere, however, even an innocent “love” between Andi and Julia, a Gentile girl, assumes overtones of forbidden fruit.

Throughout these events, Andi is aware of one constant in his young life—his father. Aside from his love for his father, Andi is fascinated by his eccentricity and originality, by his intelligence which borders on genius, and by his father’s strange aloofness toward him. As if forewarned of events to come, Eduard seems to avoid becoming too close to his son; the more he tries to maintain his distance, however, the more his son wants to be close to him. When Eduard is humiliated—as he is, many times—he pretends otherwise, blaming his problems on the inability of others to understand him. He hopes that Andi will understand his father’s singularity and his role as a sacrificial lamb selected by uncontrollable celestial forces. Just when the two seem to have drawn closer together, the inevitable happens, and Eduard is swept away in a pogrom.

Long after his father’s departure, Andi (now eleven) often thinks about him, no longer trying to understand him but instead accepting him as he was. More important, Andi discovers that he has inherited many of his father’s traits. He has just as exuberant an imagination, he feels the same urge to travel to exotic places, and he has begun to write poetry. Above all, Andi senses that the shadow of his father will accompany him into manhood. “Above the forest hovered the spirit of our father,” he says before leaving home. “Haven’t we heard him clearing his nose into a newspaper and the forest echoing threefold?”

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Themes