Back to Kilimatinde
Zurück nach Kilimatinde
Hamburg: Carlsen Verlag, 2003
Paperback Edition: Piper, 2005
Nick Geldermann, a 19-year old school dropout, intern for a local newspaper in Wuppertal, does not really know what to do with his life. He has a "quarrelsome" relationship with his mother who divorced his father and remarried since and for 6 years he has not heard a word from his father, a failed missionary. He only knows that his father lives in a remote place in Tanzania where Nick also was born but escaped from with his two sisters and his mother when still a small child.
Unexpectedly an old friend of his father appears and instructs Nick to search for his father in Africa, providing him with a cheque of 6000 Euro. Together with his girlfriend, Nick starts his journey to a country of which he only has vague childhood memories. He leaves his girlfriend behind in the hotel and starts an adventurous drive with taxi driver Moses to Kilimatinde near Dodoma. There, he finds his father as a deeply depressed, broken man who is looked after only by his Tanzanian friend Abraham. The former missionary is convinced that God has deserted him. Only during the night, his former clear consciousness returns. Father and son talk intensively for five nights and finally – painfully and prudently – draw closer. After the fifth night, the father goes back to his room and shoots himself. He had incurable cancer.
Nick stays behind, confused and touched. At the funeral, he makes a speech in front of the inhabitants of Kilimatinde – in German, but that does not matter. What matters is that he grew up during the conversations with his father. When his father is put into the grave, Nick burns his father's old church. Abraham's comment: "What fathers leave to their sons, they have to discover themselves."
Translated by Carlotta von Maltzan
Hermann Schulz: Zurück nach Kilimatinde
(Back to Kilimatinde)
This book can be called a Christian book, but it is in no way sanctimonious. "Zurück nach Kilimatinde" mainly tells about a son's search for his lost father, about conflicts with this father and about the process of growing from boyhood to becoming a man.
Without a father "you scamper around", disoriented like the young Nick in Wuppertal. During a boxing fight – not accidentally a masculinity ritual – he meets the older and ambitious Valerie and leans on her. When he reports about a stage play about the guilt of a Christian priest who betrays his colleague, a Jewish rabbi during the Nazi regime, Nick does not know yet that his father actually experienced the very same story and that a long time ago it caused him to go to Africa where he hoped to find a clearer, more simple life with a strong foundation in his belief.
The faith of the father who has committed his life to God's hands is not described in a distancing manner at all, and the mode of expression of the long-standing friend who is not shy to characterize his relationship to his missionary friend as "love" remains without comment. Such anachronistic concepts might initially irritate, but the factual and drastic way of narrating the story motivates to read on. There are no do-gooders at work here.
When Nick travels to Tanzania, he wants to take his trip to Africa lightly but it all turns out differently. In the old mission house in Kilimatinde he finds his severely depressed and helpless father, an alcoholic who becomes aggressive towards his son and beats him up. Nick is helpless and disappointed. Only during the daily washing ritual to which Nick and the old man Abraham take the helpless father, some kind of tenderness comes to the fore.
The father is an iridescent personality, passionate and hot-tempered, and quite contrary to any image one might have of a missionary in Africa. The mission society had discharged him because of his black girlfriends, he never took care of his children in Germany, and he never accounted for what happened to donations he received. Finally, the congregation of his mission had deserted him when an American sect appeared in the village with the lure of promises and material temptations. Old Abraham and his wife are the only ones who still listen to his sermons. Abraham knows "that God is still under the corrugated sheet roof".
The people in Kilimatinde do not see the father as an immoral person. Rather they see some kind of saint, a mystic, even though they do not understand why being distant from God is so painful for him. To be abandoned by God is part of their life. They are superior to the whites in strength and faith even if they sometimes have to "play the bimbo" to get what they want from them.
During five nights a late and conflict-ridden coming together emerges between father and son. Gradually the son manages to accept his father and to not make quick judgements. Finally, they reach some kind of closeness. During the very same night, the father shoots himself. Five nights remained for the son but "maybe that is more than most experience with their fathers", as Valerie comments.
The book in which God as a spiritual father figure and the father-son relationship portrayed as a conflict of authority between males are central themes is surprisingly anachronistic. Nevertheless, it is gripping and goes to heart because the narrative style is not irritatingly didactic but lively and colourful. Even if one cannot agree with the underlying Christian tone of the book, young people should still read it as it raises questions which nowadays, during the time of the "crises of fathers" in relating to their sons and to their process of growing of age, are asked only too rarely.
Translated by Carlotta von Maltzan