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Hedy Reviews “No Such Country”

By Library Staff

I first learned about this book from John Price who undertook a literary residency for the Scott County Reads Together program several years ago.  He and Elmar Lueth both attended graduate writing programs at the University of Iowa and became very good friends.  On Price’s recommendation alone, I purchased the book for the Library’s collection and then promoted it to the German American Heritage Center Book Group.  Lueth grew up in Germany, but spent many years in the United States, most of it in Iowa where he met his future wife.

His essays are easy to read, insightful, often humorous, often beautiful.  I had just attended a play called “Housebroken” by Megan Gogerty in Iowa City and was reading a book called “The Big House” by George Howe Colt, so when I started the essay called “House”, I was most interested.  Lueth was visiting his parents in a suburb of Hamburg, Germany, and decided to write a letter to a friend in Iowa: “I took my pen, my clipboard, and a glass of orange juice and sat down on the front stairs of our house. After a while, I took off my shoes and rested my feet on the warm stones. When my mother rode up on her bicycle half an hour later, she saw me sprawled out in the sunshine and frowned, ‘Do you have to sit here like this?’ she murmured, stepping around my sheets of paper….My mother’s frustration made me think, and by the time she had closed the door behind her, I knew where I had gone wrong: I had built a porch without knowing it. I had taken a foreign space and slipped it on our house. There are no porches in Maimoortwiete or anywhere else in Hamburg.  The houses I grew up with have patios, balconies, and large windows that open like wings, but they don’t hand over their privacy on porches, where passersby can take a good long look, where their eyes can almost find the inside.”  Having lived in West Berlin for four years, I can attest to the general lack of porches.  Our bungalow in Davenport didn’t have a porch.  We recently added one and absolutely love it.

There are essays on martens in the attic, the Holocaust, confronting hunters wearing slippers in a farm field, the importance of work, slipshod anthropologists, the Stasi, East German nostalgia, the German tourist view of America and language(s). This paragraph in an essay called “Word Choices” simply delighted me:

Take pumpkin, for example. I have seen pumpkins lined up on dark porches, their eyes glowing with a fierce hunger. In those moments they reminded me of trolls hiding under beds or lurking in closets. I have seen the same pumpkins in daylight and admired their facade of innocence, their clever way of disguising themselves as mere food. In early November, I have seen pumpkins fold in on themselves, as if they too knew the pains of growing old. I have seen pumpkins smashed on sidewalks and found myself thinking of winter.  I have fed on pumpkins. I like them best as pie with vanilla ice cream. Pumpkinequals Kurbis–that is the way I find it in any English-German dictionary. In my mind, that is a lie. Trapped inside jars, the pale pieces of Kurbis that stare at me from the supermarket shelves in Hamburg know nothing about pumpkins. They are quite harmless and blissfully ignorant; they could never imagine a world where vegetables are allowed to trespass among humans.”

So if you like reading essays or are interested in comparisons between Germany and the United States (especially Iowa), give this slim book a try.

P.S. John Price’s Scott County Reads Together book was “Man Killed by Pheasant: And Other Kinships” (IOWA BIOG PRICE).  If you missed it then, enjoy it now.

IOWA 973.0431 LU  “No Such Country: Essays Toward Home” by Elmar Lueth, 2002, 178 pages