Margot Benary-Isbert Critical Essays

Introduction

Margot Benary-Isbert 1889–1979

German-born American novelist, short story writer, and poet. Benary-Isbert was most noted for her humane presentation of the postwar German experience. She began writing at an early age, publishing her first story when she was nineteen. The Nazi regime put an end to her publications from 1933–45 because she would not join the Nazi writers' organization. The U.S. Army liberated her section of Germany in 1945, only to hand it over to the Russians ten weeks later. Not wanting to live under another totalitarian government, Benary-Isbert and her family fled to West Germany. Life during World War II and the postwar German experience are the primary concerns of her novels. Her portraits of the German people are life-like, presenting the mixture of good and evil that exists in most people. Her books deal with vital problems of the twentieth century, such as government-sanctioned hatred and violence. But she also depicts the eternal qualities of life that survive under even the harshest of conditions, such as a young girl's first love and the warmth of family life. She does not peddle a ready-made morality about the German experience. Her readers are allowed to draw their own conclusions. As she says about the young reader, "He does not like to feel that the author wants to hand him out a moral, to educate him. He wants nothing more or less than a good story…. But don't we all remember our own childhood and what we felt when we had been given one of those books about wonderfully good children, living patterns of virtue, diligence and good behaviour, books which we detested because they bored us to death! We smelled the moral—and turned away." Benary-Isbert wrote in German but collaborated closely with her English translators. She has been widely praised for bringing the German experience of this century to young people of other cultures. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 2.)

[The Ark is a] heart felt story of a post-war German refugee family of five, but one that falls short of significance by way of sentimentality and an appeal to a too-sunny attitude towards life. From Pomerania, the Lechows … come to the town of Hesse in West Germany and are allotted two rooms in the house of Mrs. Verduz. With spirit—and it is here that there are the overdoses of gaiety—they settle down and find the friends who will keep them company…. Superficial treatment of more vital elements in pinioned country however, makes the book a disappointment. (p. 41)

Virginia Kirkus' Bookshop Service, January 15, 1953.