Stefan Kiesbye’s haunting novel, Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone is well worth adding to your reading list. At slightly under 200 pages, this slim book has much to say about guilt, memory and the burden of wrongs. Kiesbye writes with a poet’s use of words. The technical writing is outstanding and each word matters. In this sense he reminds me of one of my all time favorite writers Jennifer Johnston, author of the outstanding, if hard to find, Fool’s Sanctuary. Both write short with an economy of precisely used words. The beauty with which Keisbye describes horrible awful things is a rare talent.
Intrigued? The prologue begins with middle-aged adults attending the funeral of a childhood friend. The story then shifts gears and takes the reader back in time to when they were children. The chapters alternate narrators. Often we get more than one perspective on a nasty event (think incest, rape, and murder both intentional and accidental). Sometimes the reactions are immediate. Other times, years have passed and a character who was aged 7 during one episode is now a pre-teen or young adult. We see how friendships unite and divide over shared memories of trauma. There is plenty of guilt to go around and that is how this book relates to twentieth century German history.
Unlike the heavy-handed and nearly unbearable book B. Schlink’s The Reader (read my review here), Kiesbye interweaves the notions of collective guilt, perpetrators, victims, bystanders and sins of the fathers subtly throughout the book. Guilt and murder are so interwoven in fabric of Devil’s Moor that the problems of the past are the problems of today, seamlessly, and for the characters in the book, without conscious thought.
Kiesbye treats his readers as intelligent human beings. He doesn’t offer easy answers to the characters responsibility and duty to the past, just as there has been no clear and easy path for Germany to reconcile its present state and role with the horrors of the Nazi legacy. In my opinion, Kiesbye’s book is par with any number of Gunter Grass’ work on a similar theme.
And if German History and memory and legacy aren’t your cup of tea, well then, read this book anyway. It’s short, haunting and beautiful.
Let me know what you think…