I was delighted to spot Daniela Krien’s gorgeously jacketed Love in Five Acts in my Twitter timeline towards the end of last year. I’d read the haunting Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything back in 2015 which feels like an age ago now – pre-Brexit, pre-Trump and pre-pandemic. Born in the GDR, Krien was a teenager when the Wall came down as were the five women who are the main protagonists of her new novel which explores what it is to be a woman in twenty-first-century Germany.
She saw the world around her differently now, noticed details she’d overlooked before, ever in expectation of bigger, greater things
Paula is a bookseller who seems finally to have found happiness with a new partner after the death of her daughter and the subsequent break-up of her marriage, no longer needing to ring her best friend, Judith, when sorrow overwhelms her. A busy GP who would rather spend precious spare time riding her beloved mare then waste it on no-hopers, Judith scans dating app profiles, expert at reading between their lines, struck by the love she witnesses between a dying woman and her husband. One of her patients, Brida, is a writer frustrated by her children’s interruptions who longs to reconcile with Götz but comes to realise that longing is best fed into her writing. Götz had left Malika heartbroken when he’d moved in with Brida, taking with him any possibility of the longed-for child she’d hoped to conceive, something she’s never quite recovered from. At their mother’s birthday party, Jorinde tells Malika that she’s pregnant with her third child, fathered by her lover not her husband, asking Malika if she would bring the child up as her own. Malika refuses but later offers a solution which works for all of them until Jorinde’s husband steps in.
The physiognomy of the people they came across stuck in her mind. The West washed traces from people’s faces, the East etched them in
Each of the sections of Krien’s meticulously constructed novel is devoted to one of these five very different women whose lives are interlinked, sometimes in ways they’re not aware. As the title suggests, love and what it means to each of them is Krien’s overarching theme, whether it’s sexual, familial or parental, together with their perceived roles in society. The women’s backstories are carefully sketched in, the complications of their lives deftly unfolded. Small details from each of their stories illuminate relationships with the others, skilfully linking them together. These are women who, like Krien, were teenagers when the Berlin Wall fell. The past still looms large for some – Malika and Jorinde’s father loudly sings the praises of the old GDR to anyone that will listen. Now middle aged, they’re faced with a multitude of choices and pressures, each dealing with the freedom denied to their parents in their own way. An impressive piece of fiction, both enjoyable and thought provoking not least in its ending. Always worth looking out for Jaimie Bulloch’s name. I’ve yet to read a novel he’s translated I’ve not enjoyed.
MacLehose Press: London 9781529406382 288 pages Hardback