Set mostly in 1920s Berlin, this novel is a young woman's attempt to make sense of the life of her flighty, pleasure-seeking mother, Else, long after her death.
Else begins life as a middle-class Jewish girl in pre-WWI Germany. The first sign that she is not like other girls in her neighborhood is her love of Christmas trees, and this rebellious streak asserts itself again when she is promised in marriage to a stodgy, boring older man. Else tries to live the life that has been laid out for her, but she dreams of more. She elopes and marries a Gentile, the artistically beautiful but chronically unfaithful Fritz, and her parents disown her. Else's vivacity and passion affects the lives of everyone she meets – which is useful for our narrator, who must piece together events from her mother's early life based on the reminisces of others. This daughter is revealed to be Angelika, the novel's author. Through the narrative of Else's life, we experience roaring 1920s Berlin with its cabarets, orgies and dramatic love affairs.
You Are Not Like Other Mothers is fiction, but the characters and setting are so well-drawn that it reads like a memoir. It's difficult to know how much is down to the translation, but at times the prose reads more like a summary than a narrative. Although the book is long, Else's story is hugely compelling. If you're in the mood for a sweeping historical epic, this won't disappoint.