Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


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...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Boulby, Mark. Uwe Johnson. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1974. Places Johnson’s novel within the context of world literature and German literature. Provides plot summary and character analysis for this intricate novel. All quotes in English translation.

Demetz, Peter. After the Fires: Recent Writing in the Germanies, Austria and Switzerland. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986. Concise discussion of Johnson’s complete works. Useful for understanding of Speculations About Jakob.

Detweiler, Robert. “ ‘Speculations About Jakob’: The Truth of Ambiguity.” Monatshefte 63, no. 1 (1966): 25-32. Discusses the main question of what is truth and suggests the terms “juggernaut” and “labyrinth” to describe the novel’s structure.

Hirsch, Marianne. Beyond the Single Vision: Henry James, Michel Butor, Uwe Johnson. York, S.C.: French Literature Publications, 1981. Interpretation and character analysis, including discussion of each character’s function as narrator. All quotes given in the original and in English.

Johnson, Uwe. “‘Unacknowledged Humorist’: An Interview with Uwe Johnson.” Interview by Leslie A. Wilson. Dimension 15, no. 3 (1982): 398-413. Contains several questions and answers pertaining to Speculations About Jakob; allows immediate access to the way Johnson thinks.