Love in Five Acts by Daniela Krien (transl. Jamie Bulloch): Take five women

Cover image for Love in Five Acts by Daniela Krien 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

17 thoughts on “Love in Five Acts by Daniela Krien (transl. Jamie Bulloch): Take five women”

  1. I’ve seen the cover of this on social media and been really drawn to it, it is a gorgeous design. Sounds like a good read too. Isn’t it interesting how you can get to know a translator and always be drawn to their work – Frank Wynne, Charlotte Collins and Stephen Snyder spring to mind.

    1. Leaps out at you doesn’t it. I’d read anything translated by Charlotte Collins! It took me a while to realise that when choosing translated novels it was a good idea to check who the translator is but it’s something I always do now.

    1. You’re welcome! I seem to have read several novels exploring the former East Germany at various points since the fall of the Wall, not to mention watching TV series. This one is a particularly good example.

    1. Thanks – that’s a useful tip. I’m not sure why it took me so long to cotton on to looking out for a translator’s name, particularly as I believe they pitch novels they love to editors.

  2. This sounds wonderful, and completely agree about Jamie Bulloch, he’s a sure-fire winner (I’ve just finished The Mussel Feast so such a coincidence to then read your post and see him mentioned!)

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  4. Women whose lives interlink… Sounds good!

    I also like to think that if they take the trouble to translate a book, it must be a good one!

    1. That inerlinking is so cleverly done. I’m intrigued by the fallout from the fall of the Wall and German reunification so this was the perfect read for me.

  5. Wow, this really intrigues me. When you say that the women are connected in ways that they’re unaware of, is it because the connection is more meaningful to the author than the characters (e.g. theme) or because there are connections in the story between them and they simply haven’t discovered them? You know I love love love these multiple narrators/characters in a good ol’ puzzle kinda novel…

    1. Partly the latter but I’m wary of giving too much away as part of the pleasure in this one is the discovery of those connections. I think it’s published under a different title in North America should you be interested in it.

  6. On a random note, it doesn’t seem to be available in our libraries yet, but in the course of looking it up, I found a neat looking recent documentary called Jane Fonda in Five Acts. 🙂

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