You Are Not Like Other Mothers is a simple title for a book that is neither simple fiction nor dry enough to be called non-fiction. Instead it is a narrative vacuum into which the reader is sucked along with the author’s thoughtful (if belated) understanding of her flighty, pleasure-seeking mother, Else, and those who lived in Else’s world.
A middle-class Jewish girl in pre-WWI Berlin, Else, to her parents’ horror, loved Christmas trees; as a new wife and mother, she elopes with the moody, artistic gentile Fritz. In self-absorbed roaring ´20s Berlin, she and Fritz both take numerous lovers and throw countless wild parties, the guest lists including most of Germany’s intellectual elite.
Meanwhile, Else’s decent Jewish parents are kept in the dark about her wild lifestyle until Else becomes pregnant with her third child, who does not belong to her husband. Fritz chooses to leave Else and marry his lover.
The child turns out to be Angelika, the precocious and peculiar author of this epic character study. Through Angelika’s reflections and Else’s copious letters, we live through Germany’s good times, then Hitler’s rise, Else’s last-minute evacuation to Bulgaria with her children, narrowly escaping the beginning of the Holocaust. Then, the misery of war and the terror and joy of the Allied bombs, the miraculous fall of the Third Reich, and the close of the Iron Curtain on Eastern Europe.
Else and her child finally return to Germany, where Else, tired and terminally ill, confronts her memories of her misspent life and reflects upon her newly-found, hard-won wisdom.
Schrobsdorff writes a poetic ode to her mother, whom she hated and adored, revered and pitied, and who couldn’t help but to live life to its fullest and regret the consequences later. This book was fantastic. I more than recommend it.