We’re going to Germany for this year’s first title from Peirene. Katja Oskamp’s narrator is in her mid-forties, which she imagines as swimming in the middle of a huge lake, with the past having receded but the future still out of focus. She feels she’s treading water:
My life had grown stale: my offspring had flown the nest, my other half was ill and my writing, which had kept me busy until then, was more than a little iffy. I was carrying something bitter within me, completing the invisibility that befalls women over forty. I didn’t want to be seen, but nor did I want to see. I’d had it with people, the looks on their faces and their well-meant advice. I sank to the bottom.
The woman decides that, if she’s going to be invisible to the wider world, she may as well make a major change for herself. She leaves behind her writing career and retrains as a chiropodist. She works out of a salon in the Marzahn area of Berlin, which was formerly part of the GDR. It’s the kind of place that could itself be overlooked, as could the narrator’s (often elderly or disabled) customers. One of the key things she does as a chiropodist is then simply to give her clients recognition.
The novel as a whole does the same. Each chapter focuses on a different customer – and they’re a vivid cast, from Frau Frenzel whose life revolves around her dachshund, to Herr Pietsch, who was a party official in the GDR, but has had to adjust to a rather different way of life since. Marzahn, Mon Amour becomes a composite portrait of this community, one that works to make its characters visible – narrator and customers alike.