Van has finished reading…Motherland by Jo McMillan

7 Jul

I’m very grateful to BookBridgr and John Murray Press for allowing me to read this book. I think it’s really rather special. It’s a difficult book – not in its presentation or readability, but for the story it tells, for what it confronts. It feels almost paradoxical in some ways. It’s very funny in places, yet some of those moments aren’t ones I felt I could laugh at. There’s a seriousness about it, a sense of devotion almost, that underpins it, that in itself can and does sometimes appear comedic, yet it can’t be dismissed or written off. This is no mere flirtation with a nebulous sense of a fairer world. These are the lives of True Believers.

Jess is everything you could want from a coming-of-age character: she’s feisty; she’s self-aware; she keeps the names of her enemies in a black book under the bed; she knows her own mind. Or does she? And this is where that humour becomes a little more than merely funny. Because Jess is a chip off the block. Because Jess’s world has been shaped – as any child’s is – by her mother’s influence. Because Jess has grown not by her hometown Tamworth’s time, but to the regulated throb of the German Democratic Republic.

This is a historical novel in one sense, Germany now being a unified country. I would guess that for most readers – me included – mention of the GDR conjures, if anything, words like communism, oppression, Stasi. Jo McMillan’s story stands starkly against those isolated responses. This is fiction, but it’s fiction born of experience, and that rings through the novel. If you are familiar with the world of the Socialist Struggle I think you’ll get even more out of this book, though that knowledge is no prerequisite to enjoying it. I get the impression that talking to Jo would sound like talking to Jess – an older, more seasoned Jess. A wiser Jess? Only Jo could tell me that. Those shadowy impressions, the negative imagery relating to the GDR was there for a reason, and Jo doesn’t flinch from it, but there is genuine affection in her prose, a real sense of that love-hate tug as Jess does come of age. What is written most prominently through this novel is that breath between ideas and ideals, and the long exhalation which separates ideals and the people who are expected to live by them. The final scene is beautiful and poignant and heart-breaking and truly eloquent.

Motherland was published by John Murray Press on 2nd July 2015 ISBN 9781473611993

You can find Jo on twitter @JoMcMillan and at her website

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