Magda by Meike Ziervogel

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Magda by Meike Ziervogel

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: An interesting, if flawed, factional look at a rarefied maternal figure, and the women either side of her on the family tree.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 128 Date: March 2013
Publisher: Salt Publishing
ISBN: 9781907773402

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Meet a woman who, despite praying to remain virginal, had seven children. Meet a woman whose mother thought her hoity-toity, and spoilt, and who thought she should go to work in a factory at school age to know her place better. Meet a woman of whom her oldest daughter would write I don't care what Mother says. Mother isn't always right. No, she definitely isn't. All three women are, of course, one and the same, and they're Magda Goebbels, the woman who epitomised more than anyone the Nazi wife.

While the event that opens and closes this short novel is quite commonly known, there is enough space in our understanding and knowledge to insert some fiction. The piece is definitely a character study, of two females – Magda, and her oldest daughter Helga. Magda is here in her own childhood thoughts and interests, and later fantasies, and in testimony from her own mother. Helga is here in a very strong central section, allegedly her diaries that were her sole outlet when the family were trapped in Hitler's Berlin bunker as the war ended.

If anything, the middle is too strong, for the character that is most alive on the page is Helga. You can't escape the blurb and what it defines as the intended thrust of the book – the continuance of evil within the family, down the female line. Handily, Magda's character is still far too complex to be defined as tritely as 'evil'. She did experience nastiness as a child, according to this, and might have acted high and mighty and with too much juvenile profligacy as a teenager, but did not exactly fail to be a maternal figure until the shocking end. Her biggest crime might have been simply that of deluded fantasy, as it's implied here she saw herself, her husband Joseph Goebbels and Hitler as a new variant on Mary, Joseph and the Holy Spirit.

That brings us to the issue with Magda – to what extent was she a Nazi, a brood-mare for the Third Reich and for Hitler and his closest colleague, and to what extent can she be identified as a female character? Certainly I know a lot more about the Nazi regime than I do about women's issues, and for me the book still has great validity in looking at the minutiae of this fictionalised Frau Goebbels. There is definitely, as intended, a great welter of interesting details for the feminist thinker to wade through too. But even with our sympathies put too much towards Helga I don't think the book was an outstanding success at discussing the clammy, controlling hand of maternity, or the nightmares that can turn that grip into a lethal one. Ziervogel can certainly write fiction, it's perhaps her decision to go down the route of faction with such a convoluted, noted example that allows the punch of this vivid short book to be not quite what it should.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For more faction regarding leading Nazis, one of the books of 2012 according to many was HHhH by Laurent Binet.

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Buy Magda by Meike Ziervogel at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Magda by Meike Ziervogel at


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