And You Shall Tell Your Children: The Intersection of Memory, Identity, and Narrative in Contemporary German Jewish Autofiction
Killian, Doria Beth
This dissertation examines the autofictional works of three Jewish women writing in German, combining a close textual analysis with a narratological framework in order to understand how narrative, storytelling, and writing are used at both the diegetic and meta-levels to negotiate familial and cultural memory and to construct a contemporary German Jewish identity. The works analyzed herein—Barbara Honigmann’s Roman von einem Kinde (1986), Damals, dann und danach (1999), and Ein Kapitel aus meinem Lebens (2004); Gila Lustiger’s So sind wir (2005); and Katja Petrowskaja’s Vielleicht Esther (2015)—are all written by second- or third-generation post-Holocaust Jews whose familial pasts include stories of exile, deportation, and internment, and whose individual presents are marked by trauma, intergenerational silence, and multiplex identities. As they navigate these heavy subjects, interweaving stories of their parents’ and grandparents’ lives alongside tales from their own childhoods and contemporary lives, each of these authors also thematizes narrative itself, rendering storytelling, writing, and literature as significant to these works as the stories and anecdotes contained within them. Using memory theory from a variety of scholars to examine this thematization of narrative and its connection to memory, identity, and family dynamics, I argue that, rather than being used to merely recount the past, narrative in these works becomes the very site in which familial and individual identity is constructed and construed. In addition, each chapter also centers on a narratological element that is particularly salient in each of the three authors’ work, specifically: plot/narrativity, metanarration, and intertextuality. I then relate the thematization of narrative at the diegetic level to the author’s own construction of narrative at the meta-level, using feminist narratological scholarship to explore the interrelation of content and form. This dissertation serves to further the ongoing scholarly conversation on memory, identity, and belonging in relation to contemporary German Jewish life and, in its conception of narrative as contingent on cultural context rather than as proceeding from universal norms, also contributes to postclassical feminist narratology and works to broaden our understanding of the role of narrative in human life.
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