Knud Romer's novel might by some be regarded more as autobiography than fiction. It is true that this is the story of the author's childhood on the Danish island of Falster. But this is no conventional childhood, and the story spans far beyond the author's life, taking us back through the family history to the gypsy who ran aground on the island in the 18th century and presenting a finely drawn picture of xenophobia in a remote corner of Europe.The story is built up of fragments of memory, both the boy's own memories and those that haunt the household, for we find ourselves in part living in a house full of ghosts of the past. For the boy is the outcome of a story whose list of characters includes the fantasist grandfather planning hotel and cinemas, the grandmother victim of a bombing raid who lives on behind a black veil without a face and the uncle who survived Stalingrad with his body full of fragments of grenade, which he gives the boy at Christmases or birthdays as they emerge from his body. In the foreground are the boy's neurotic Danish father and especially the dominating and schizophrenic mother he married after the war. She is German, from a noble country family and she was attached to the resistance during the war. But nevertheless she is German. And as such she is ostracized by the local population. Her response is to become even more entrenched in her Germanness. Little Knuedchen is sent for his first day at school in lederhosen - and from then on his fate is sealed. The war is long over, but 15-20 years on this small provincial town insists that Germans do not belong. The family is isolated in an eddying sea of evil, while the boy is bullied and responds by immersing himself in the past to avoid the present.The title page tells us that this is a novel, and we are presented with the grim realities of the boy's childhood through the wide eyes of a child torn between the harsh reality in which he finds himself and his deep love for his mother and the ghosts of his past. We move between far-fetched fantasies and stark realism, and the boy's memories are structured as memory - as splinters and shards of experience, as fragments of the grenade he has assembled through his childhood and that he, now adult, flings into the centre of that hated provincial society, exploding its self-satisfied myths and providing a form of redemption for the author.

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