Por­trait of the Moth­er as a Young Woman

Fred­erich Chris­t­ian Delius; Jamie Bul­loch, trans.
  • Review
By – March 13, 2012

What’s tru­ly fas­ci­nat­ing about Por­trait of the Moth­er as a Young Woman is Fred­erich Delius’s accom­plish­ment in craft­ing a nov­el set on a sin­gle day, com­posed only of a sin­gle sen­tence. As intim­i­dat­ing, tir­ing, or even indul­gent as that may seem, the result is acces­si­ble, poet­ic, and ulti­mate­ly med­i­ta­tive.

Delius’s twen­ty-one-year-old hero­ine is alone and heav­i­ly preg­nant in a for­eign coun­try against the back­drop of World War II. Iso­lat­ed from her fam­i­ly and her Ger­man home­land, she has jour­neyed to occu­pied Rome to await the return of her hus­band, a Nazi sol­dier, from the African front. Ever the pious Chris­t­ian, she lives in a reli­gious safe haven cared for by nuns, secret­ly delight­ing in the priv­i­lege of eat­ing fruits, choco­late, and oth­er del­i­ca­cies rationed out­side the walls of her con­fines. Still, she knows she is bet­ter off than most and prays fer­vent­ly for the safe return of her beloved and the well-being of her fam­i­ly in Ger­many, which of course, means a vic­to­ry for the Axis pow­ers.

Encour­aged by her obste­tri­cian to have a walk, she is con­front­ed by the jar­ring cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences she wit­ness­es on the streets of Rome. The sen­su­al, naked bod­ies of pagan stat­ues at once intrigue and intim­i­date her. More pro­found­ly, she is forced to face the painful con­tra­dic­tion between Christianity’s dic­tate of broth­er­ly love and Germany’s com­pli­ance with the Fuhrer’s rad­i­cal racist agen­da. Despite being raised in the Third Reich, she is fur­ther appalled by Hitler’s insis­tence of his align­ment with her beloved God. Through his character’s con­fu­sion and silent indig­na­tion, Delius builds a por­trait of the aver­age Ger­man bystander and man­ages to attain a mod­icum of sym­pa­thy and under­stand­ing for her plight. 

Hei­di Sax is a mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­al, spe­cial­iz­ing in the fash­ion indus­try. Orig­i­nal­ly from the Chica­go area, Hei­di has a Bach­e­lor’s Degree in Eng­lish from Emory Uni­ver­si­ty and resides in New York City.

Discussion Questions