Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Walter Jens

Demenz - Anschied von meinem Vater (Dementia - Taking Leave of my Father) by Tillman Jens is a very personal book. He writes about seeing his father deteriorate, from a man who couldn't live without writing and talking to someone who has trouble remembering even simple words. "My language has died on me", said Walter Jens. It's also a debate on euthanasia, something Walter Jens talked about publicly and wanted for himself.

The book created quite an uproar because many critics considered it impious to write about such a private matter. Walter Jens has been a cultural institution in Germany for many years, as an author, critic and literature historian, and it seems that some people would prefer to keep that picture of him intact.

I would disagree. Dementia (and Alzheimer) is very common and still it's something of a hidden disease. It's just not talked about. Why do feel people the need to hide it? Of course it's horrible to watch a loved one suffer from it, but keeping it secret won't make it any better. So I think we should be thankful for anyone who shares their experience, it can only serve to make people less helpless in the face of this disease.

The book also deals with accusations that Walter Jens had been a party member of the NSDAP and has kept silent about it for decades. The disappointment that his father never talked about this is very clear when Tilman Jens writes about this. This silence is a very German thing, though, both in the generation who were adults during the Third Reich and in the generation who experienced it only as children and teenagers. "In that whole Flakhelfer-generation, were there no little Nazis who believed - even for five minutes - in the Thousand Year Empire?"

This is the 11th book in the Library Challenge

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