Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 15, 2010

Pickle to Pie, by Glenice Whitting

Pickle to Pie is the story of a second generation Australian of German descent, and his struggle for identity.  The narrative is structured around his memories as he lies dying in hospital.

The origins of this book in family history is obvious, though the disclaimer says that while it is based on fact it is ‘veiled in fiction: a melding of imagination, historical events and scattered memories.’  The story follows Friedrich from his childhood in Footscray through World War 1, the Great Depression and World War 2, as he struggles to reconcile his German identity with his Australian one.  This is made more difficult for him by the tragic deaths that occur in his family, by unemployment and poverty and by difficulties with his relationships.

However I had trouble liking him, especially when I read his enthusiasm for theories about Aryanism in the early days of Hitler’s regime.  His grandmother sees the peril in Mein Kampf, but he does not.

My German blood rises and pounds in my veins.  Half of me belongs to the Fatherland.  I want to be proud of my German ancestry, proud of my grandparents, proud of the old country.  I yearn to be part of this strong, brave brotherhood. To stand with all the others and cheer Sieg Heil…I see Hitler as a man of courage, ready to give his all to save his people.  He will make them strong and will restore them to their rightful place in the world.  Then I can be proud of my German name.’ (p194).

Reading this makes my skin crawl, but I’m alert to irony and because the text signals his grandmother’s dismay about the rise of Nazism, I read on, waiting for  Friedrich to discover the truth about Hitler and revise his ideas.   I was expecting to see the struggle to reconcile opposing worlds referred to in the author’s dedication, but there is a lot more of his admiration for Hitler to come.  He dismisses what he reads in the papers as propaganda, and enthuses about Hitler’s strength.  He wants to be a soldier, but not in the AMF, so he joins a civil defence militia which can’t serve overseas.  I was expecting to read about his shocked reaction when he finds out about the Death Camps, but his pity is for himself.  His emotions ‘fester’ because ‘Churchill’s speeches trumpet to the world that the Allies carry the sword of justice’ (p204) and he is offended by US bombing over Germany. (p207) He believes that Russian Communism is a far greater threat to democracy than Hitler (p208) and that Hitler should have been left alone to destroy Communism.  He wants to be acknowledged as Australian and resents that he isn’t,  but while he rejects being called a Kraut he isn’t willing to confront the truth about what Germany is doing.  He doesn’t want to ‘give up the dream that [he is] part of a noble race, and some deep part of [him] acknowledges Hitler’s strength.’ [p219]  When he learns the truth it’s all about the shattering of his childhood dream to be Emperor of Germany and King Of Australia, and his fear that his children will be taunted unless he changes his name.  With the war over, he admits that theories about Aryan supremacy are wrong, but there’s not a word to suggests that he’s appalled to discover how those theories manifested themselves in the Death Camps.

What are we to make of this?  This is a sympathetic portrait of a troubled man, a flawed human being.  His personal tragedies evoke our pity.   We don’t want to sit in judgement on the opinions of a man struggling to find himself, but there is something really creepy about his failure to acknowledge the truth about his hero, an unease exacerbated by not knowing if this is memoir or a work of fiction.  Friedrich was not a child during WW2, and his reflections on this period take place when he’s an old man.  There is an elephant in the room…

Author: Glenice Whitting
Title: Pickle to Pie
Publisher: Ilura Press, 2007
ISBN: 9781921325021
Source: Personal copy, purchased at Readings, $26.95.


Responses

  1. I am sure that many people of German ancestry shared views like that. I’ve just read a book about Berlin in the war, and many STARTEd with views like that but were totally disillusioned by the end of the war – but then it was too late to change your mind wasn’t it.

    Apologies for my apparent lack of interest in book blogs for the last month – it all got a bit too much for me what with other demands on my time

    Like

    • Don’t apologise, Tom – this blogging malarkey is a lot of fun, but it can be a bit of a self-imposed burden sometimes too, and sometimes a bit of quiet time is needed…

      Like


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