Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything by Daniela Krien

Daniela Krien’s debut novel (tr. by Jamie Bulloch) takes us to the East German countryside in the summer of 1990 shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sixteen-year-old Maria – who narrates the novel – has recently moved to join her boyfriend, Johannes, and his family in their home on the Brendel’s farm. Maria’s parents are divorced, and with her father about to marry a nineteen-year-old, her mother’s sadness has prompted Maria’s move:

‘It drains every scrap of energy from my body, and the joy from my heart.’ (pg, 34, MacLehose Press)

Having dropped out of school, Maria spends her days with books and helping in the Brendel’s farm shop, which she hopes will make her feel less of an outsider amongst the family. At first she seems happy living with Johannes, her first lover, in the attic room at the top of the farmhouse. But then a chance encounter with Henner, the owner of the neighbouring farm changes everything for Maria, a girl on the brink of womanhood.

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Johannes’ grandmother describes forty-year-old Henner as ‘a wild one.’ Ever since his wife left several years ago, Henner has neglected the farm allowing everything, himself included, to run to seed. He is a loner, unpredictable and feral. But despite the warnings, Maria finds herself strangely attracted to this man, and the two begin an intense and unstable affair.

Henner’s attraction to Maria manifests itself in a variety of ways. At times, there is something bestial and ferocious about his desire as he forces himself on Maria almost crushing her beneath his weight. On other occasions, however, he is gentle and attentive towards the girl:

I did cry a little last night, and at one point I asked him to stop. He replied quietly, but with an odd tone to his voice, that I should have thought about that earlier; now it was too late.

The dogs are quiet again, and Henner is washing me with a warm sponge. He strokes the hair from my face and wants to make me pure again, Then he makes tea and goes into the village to fetch some rolls. He stays with me all day, feeding and cleaning me. I am not at all well. My head is hot and my mind scrambled, yet I feel happy. Just so long as he doesn’t leave my bedside; that makes me anxious. (pg. 88-89)

Before Maria can get her head around the situation, she’s in deep and when she returns to Johannes, it is Henner she desires:

Now, like a thief, sleep takes hold of me; it descends from the gloomy sky and sinks heavily onto my abused body, ill-treated by love. I can feel Henner’s hands – course, gentle, brutal, expectant – and I long for them… (pg. 54)

For the time being, the affair must remain a secret and Maria embarks on a series of furtive trips to Henner’s farm, covering her tracks by telling the Brendels she’s visiting her mother. Luckily for Maria, Johannes is so wrapped up in his growing obsession for photography that he fails to notice any signs of the affair. In fact, she wonders about the depth of his feelings for her at all:

We’re sitting by the river with our feet in the water. Johannes only ever sees me through the camera lens these days. Every gesture becomes a picture, every look becomes infinity. He delivers me from time and captures a moment, which is then immediately lost for ever – every picture is a small death. (pg. 41)

Johannes, a budding photographer, wants go to art college in the city. Maria doesn’t love Johannes, and whilst it is difficult for her to imagine the future, she feels as if they are each heading in different directions. Maria finds it easier to live in the present, moving from one day to the next, and there is a sense that time stands still when she enters the gates to Henner’s farm:

This is his road, and mine – this much I know – is currently heading in a different direction. It’s too early to say where, I’m lurching from one emotional state to another, living from one day to the next, always in the present, always in the now, and the now is Henner. Johannes and the future are unknowns. (pg. 84)

Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything is a thoughtful slow-burner which draws the reader into Maria’s story. Krien’s prose is spare and uncluttered, and the style suits Maria’s lifestage and sparse nature of life on the farms. We gain a sense of the mix of emotions inside the girl’s mind. Maria is inexplicably drawn towards Henner and yet she feels guilty for deceiving Johannes and his family, all the more so as they begin to accept her as one of their own. We also learn more about Henner’s backstory, and there’s a suggestion that his violent behaviour may stem from events in his mother’s past.

Krien also weaves the theme of transition into the narrative drawing parallels between different threads in the story. As Maria tries to come to terms with her emotions and decide on a course of action regarding Henner, the world around her is changing too. German reunification is imminent offering the Brendels new opportunities to modernise and expand the farm. But any change can also bring challenges with a real risk that local businesses may fall by the wayside if they struggle to conform to new regulations. The author does a good job in conveying this state of flux and sense of uncertainty amongst the family.

First and foremost though, this is Maria’s story. I liked the measured pace of this novel and the quiet way the story unfolds. The intimate nature of the narrative works well, although this style and some of the details Maria shares might not be to everyone’s tastes (Henner’s behaviour is abusive at times). Maria does come to a decision about her future, but I’ll leave you to discover it for yourself should you decide to read this book. This is a good debut with a very powerful, poignant ending, and I’ll be interested to see what Krien does next.

German Lit Month

I read this book as one of my choices for Caroline and Lizzy’s German Literature Month, which is running throughout November. Caroline, Lindsay (The Little Reader Library) and Stu (Winstonsdad’s) have also reviewed this book.

Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything is published in the UK by MacLehose Press. Source: review copy kindly provided by the publisher.

28 thoughts on “Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything by Daniela Krien

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I think you’d like it, Susan, and Krien’s prose has that spare, clean style that tends to appeal to you. I’ve really enjoyed seeing all the German Lit Month reviews flying around the web during November, so many writers to discover.

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Karen. The ending is very powerful, and I didn’t see it coming at all. I needed a different type of book, a change of mood after Transit and My First Wife, and the Krien fitted the bill.

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      That’s a very good question. I hadn’t considered it before today, but I think you might be onto something there. Johannes definitely wants to move away to art college (the couple take a day trip to West at one point), so he could represent the opportunities opening up in the West. And Henner’s desire to control Maria (along with the instances of abuse) could be a parallel for the GDR. Good spot!

      Reply
  1. erdeaka

    What a beautiful story! I think I’ve fallen in love with this book ever since I read Stu’s review on his blog back then, although I actually haven’t read it yet. it’s just the kind of story I’m craving for. hope one day I can get my hands on it :)

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I think this one’s right up your street, erdeaka. The narrative style is quite personal, intimate in a way, and the focus on relationships might appeal to you. Maria’s voice will stay with you, I think. Hope you manage to get hold of a copy.

      Reply
  2. Brian Joseph

    I am coming to appreciate these character and relationship studies more and more. I think that such slow burn type books are a good thing.

    I second GertLoveDay’s question and observation. It sounds like there may be parallels between the personal and the political in this book.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Yes, it’s one of those books that unfolds at a measured pace, and sections of the story keep flitting through my mind – the ending is particularly hard to shake. To be honest, it was just what I needed to read after My First Wife, which was absolutely fascinating but very intense. The Krien was compelling, easy to engage with, and I’m glad I picked it as one of my German Lit Month books.

      I think you’re right about the political and personal parallels in the story. As I mentioned to Gert, Johannes wants to spread his wings, so it’s probably fair to say that he represents the opportunities opening up in the West. And Henner’s desire to control Maria could be a parallel for the GDR. It’s an interesting book, a good debut.

      Reply
  3. Guy Savage

    I know I’ve heard of this book before, but I can’t remember where. I doubt I’d care for this one as the description of Henner and Maria’s encounters wouldn’t persuade me to try it.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Caroline and Stu have both reviewed it so you may have seen it there? Caroline’s review was a couple of years ago (I just found it this morning when I checked her blog), but Stu’s is a fairly recent one. Maria’s descriptions of her relationship with Henner are quite intimate and explicit at times and that style isn’t going to appeal to everyone.

      I liked the quietly compelling nature of this story, and it was a welcome change of tone for me after the Wassermann. My First Wife was remarkable but just so intense I needed something different for my last German Lit Month read. I’ll be very interested to see what Krien does next as it feels as if she’s got plenty of potential. Caroline might know if she’s got anything else in the pipeline.

      Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          Oh, I’m with you there. One of the things I like about events like German Lit Month is the flexibility to choose a variety of different books as long as they fit the overall theme. Plenty of opportunity for a change in style and tone from one book to the next.

          Reply
  4. Caroline

    I see we had a similar reaction but I read it more as a book about the “Wende” than about one person only. Or let’s say, that’s what made it unique for me. But it is a poweful story. The brooding atmosphere and all.
    We just crossed each other this minute. I just answered your comement while you were commeniting on Roth. – I mentioned that Krien has a new book out. A collection of short stories which the readers like. The critics are less enthusiastic. It seems the stories are great but the style isn’t as good anymore.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Ah, that’s interesting. I thought it captured the uncertainty at the time, how some members of the family saw unification as a positive thing while others were more fearful. And Maria has to come to a decision about her future and choose a path for herself.

      Brooding is a good word for it as there’s a sense of foreboding, especially towards the end, and some of the scenes between Maria and Henner are quite explicit, creepy even. I tuned into the personal side of the story, and I wonder if that’s because I read it straight after Wassermann’s My First Wife.

      Thanks for the update on Krien’s other work. Mixed reactions to her stories by the sound of things, I wonder if they’ll get translated.

      Reply
  5. naomifrisby

    Great review, as always, Jacqui. It’s not often I read a review and am put off the book but some of the quotations you’ve chosen made me shudder! It does sound very well done but I think you have to be in the right frame of mind for a book like this one (or perhaps I’m getting sensitive in middle age!)

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Naomi. I made a conscious decision to select that second quote, the one where Henner is washing Maria with a sponge, as it illustrates the nature of their relationship. Henner’s behaviour fluctuates from the abusive to the attentive, but there’s something very unsettling and creepy about that scene. Even when he’s caring for her there’s a sense of unease, almost as though she’s being groomed in some way. It’s not quite like that, but there’s a hint of it (that’s how I interpreted it anyway). Some of the details Maria shares are quite intimate, so you’re right, anyone who reads this book needs to be in the right frame of mind for such a personal narrative.

      It’s a compelling story though, and the ending is very powerful – I think Caroline mentions this in her review, but it’s almost worth reading for the ending.

      Reply
  6. Emma

    One more book on the wish list. Great review
    I’ve been on a farm in East Germany at the same period. The tractor still needed to be jump started by hand. (yoy know like old cars. I don’t know how it say it in English)

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Emma. It’s a good debut I think. Not mind-blowing, but Maria’s voice drew me in and the ending’s very compelling. The intimate style and details of Maria’s relationship might not be to everyone’s tastes though (there’s more on this in my replies to Guy’s and Naomi’s comments).

      I was surprised quite how primitive and basic everything was on the farm at that time. It could have been the 1950s, but I guess that’s how life in the GDR was like before unification. Your experience with the tractor confirm this – I know exactly what you mean by hand cranking an engine.

      Reply
  7. Vishy

    Wonderful review, Jacqui! I have wanted to read Krien’s book and now after reading your review I am inspired to read it sooner rather than later. I loved this sentence that you have quoted in your review – “He delivers me from time and captures a moment, which is then immediately lost for ever – every picture is a small death.” It is so beautiful. I can’t wait to find out what Maria decides in the end.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Vishy. That’s a great quote, isn’t it? Almost poetic. It’s also a reflection of Maria’s feelings about the state of her relationship with Johannes, how it’s dying minute by minute.

      I hope you get a chance to read this book, and I’ll be intrigued to hear your thoughts on it. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but the ending will stay with you…

      Reply
  8. 1streading

    I’m intrigued by your positive review as, given the way the book seems to have been marketed (by this I mean the cover), I doubt it is one I would even have picked up. It does make me wonder what I might be missing for similar reasons!

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I think Stu talks about the cover in his review as it does say ‘women’s fiction’ and I doubt whether I would have picked it up in a bookshop either! It’s a darker, more brooding story than that cover suggests…

      Reply
  9. Pingback: A-Z Index of Book Reviews (listed by author) | JacquiWine's Journal

  10. Pingback: Daniela Krien’s Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything (Review and Giveaway) – My Book Strings

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