Nelly Jordan, a girl growing up under the Nazi regime. An impressionable, idealistic girl, she falls prey to the propaganda surrounding her in school, Hitler Youth, and the media. In spite of intense indoctrination and the silence maintained in her family, Nelly manages to preserve bits of her individual morality through feelings of secrecy, embarrassment, guilt, shame, pity, fear, and a pervasive sense of sadness. Still, she enthusiastically participates in the Hitler Youth and tries to please her Nazi teachers. With the misery of her family becoming refugees, the atrocities that she witnesses and hears about, and the occupation of Germany, her system of beliefs breaks down, and she has to undergo a total transformation to become a new human being.
The narrator, who is identical with the adult Nelly but feels that the child Nelly is a stranger. An ethically sensitive, complex, and philosophical writer, the narrator is haunted by the split in her and her generation’s consciousness that has occurred through the suppression of negative memories. The occasion of a brief family trip in 1971 to her prewar hometown, Landsberg, which since the war lies in Poland, precipitates her writing an autobiographical novel. The questioning of the memories that are provoked through associations with certain places during their trip makes her write about Nelly’s development. She also feels compelled to reflect on the act of writing as a way of fixing and potentially distorting memories, however, and—through her observer status—of alienating herself from living in the present. Thus, she experiences not only the splits between past and present and between self and society, but also a split between life and fiction writing. She is in search of an integrated self that can...
(The entire section is 749 words.)