by Katharina Hagena
When Iris’ grandmother passes away after years lost in a fog of dementia, she leaves her house to her granddaughter. Iris decides to stay there for one week, after the funeral, and at the end of it she will decide whether she wants to keep the house or sell it. The home has been the site of many family joys and tragedies, and the memories it stirs are bittersweet. As the days pass, Iris rekindles a childhood friendship and forces herself to face her most painful memories, finding healing amidst the clutter of her grandmother’s house.
The Taste of Apple Seeds is a translation of a German novel, and it occurred to me after reading a few pages that I really don’t read many novels set in Germany. It affects my perception of the story in little ways. In one scene, a character discovers Nazi-related graffiti spray-painted on her chicken coop. That would certainly be offensive if it happened here in America, but in Germany it’s a wholly different sort of insult, I think. After all, Iris does have a Nazi in her family tree; her grandfather was a judge and after World War II he was sent to a “retraining” camp. She wonders if the person who tagged her property knew this, or if it’s just a coincidence.
The story has an ephemeral, dreamy quality that seems entirely appropriate to a meditation on memories. Iris is floating, her normal life “on hold” as she pokes around in the drawers and cupboards filled by several generations of women. She swims through her childhood and stories of her grandmother’s past as smoothly as her daily exercise in a nearby lake. This gives the narrative a flowing, unstructured quality that feels very relaxed, making it easy for the reader to drift along.
But though the story is lovingly crafted, with some beautiful lyrical descriptions of white currants that taste of tears, it suffers from being rather, well, boring. When you get right down to it, not much happens in the story. Iris wakes up, swims, goes to a gas station shop to buy her daily snacks, flirts with her old pal Max, and putters around the house playing dress-up in her family’s old dresses. Repeat. It’s a believable portrayal of a woman processing her grief over the loss of a loved one, but it’s not interesting. I wonder if something of the German prose just didn’t translate well to English?
3 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2013: The Black Count by Tom Reiss
2012: Vacation: Off to Disneyland!
2011: The Tudor Secret by C. W. Gortner
2010: Fallen by Lauren Kate
2009: News? Just because you CAN publish a 12 year old’s book doesn’t mean you should…