Being sisters one more time
The three sisters used to stick together, but life drove them apart. They take a hike through the moor to try and bridge the gap. They bring memories of their shared past and their present in their luggage. There’s nothing around to hold them back.
By Jana Schrader
In their own way, each of the three sisters Elija, Noa and Loth are social outsiders. Elija, the oldest, has been since birth: she was born with a trisomy. Today she lives in a flat share in Berlin and works as a theatre actor. Her latest play is about Hagar, the Egyptian maidservant of Sarah in the Old Testament of the Bible. As Sarah cannot have children, Hagar is asked to have a child with her husband Abraham. The story affects Elija deeply; her abdomen has been cut to pieces and her body will never be able to bear life.
Noa lives in Hamburg and works several jobs, the most conventional of which is working in the canteen in her friend Akim’s office building. In the afternoon, she visits nursing homes as a sexual companion. She chose her own work, but she is always searching for herself. She, who gives more to others than she gets back, looks for her image in reflective surfaces.
Loth, the youngest, once had brightly dyed hair and planned to go to university. Now she lives in a community that calls itself Patriots, uploads videos in which she chants radical right-wing slogans, and sings forbidden songs. She furtively hangs up posters and throws stones at foreigners’ shops with like-minded people. She carries within her a great anger and a hunger that she doesn’t want to satisfy with food. But her emaciated body must please everyone and she is one of the few who knows the real truth, right?
Can they come together when so much divides them?In Amanda Lasker-Berlin’s debut novel Elijas Lied (Elija’s Song), these three different women walk through the moor to climb a hill. The hiking tour was Loth’s idea, the other two agreed to join her after long hesitation. They haven’t been in touch for years; they have little in common with each other. Each of their life paths and attitudes is highly topical and politically charged, each of them causes friction, each is her own potential novel. When they meet, the air is full of sparks. We can guess that their pathway together will not come to a peaceful end.
Each chapter is headed with a time; the women wander through the lonely landscape from eight until after midnight. But Amanda Lasker-Berlin repeatedly leaves the present day and delves into the sisters’ everyday lives. Elija struggles with rehearsals for her new solo role as Hagar. On a hot summer’s day, Noa wanders from job to job until she doesn't know whether she’s coming or going. Loth travels through the republic for her cause with her video camera. Lasker-Berlin doesn’t condemn their characters, but gives them room to speak. Her readers have to draw their own conclusions from the story line. With her gentle, emphatic, and melodious language, she exposes the sisters layer by layer and gives space to their thoughts. Even without using a specific word – Loth is never called a Nazi – she examines what each sister’s attitudes mean for herself and the others. Is it still possible to be a family if Loth thinks the life of her own sister Elija is worthless? Where does the line run between the private and the political?
Locating bodies in the worldIn her gloomy yet sensitive novel, Amanda Lasker-Berlin is very close to her characters – above all mentally, but also physically. She studies performing arts and, like Elija, comes from the theatre. In an interview with her publisher, she explained how important physical portrayal is to her for locating a person in the world. This novel also demonstrates that. Again and again there is mention of sharp bones, abdominal walls, vessels, and other physical objects that make the characters tangible.
Another manuscript was originally supposed to be published, the author revealed to Buchreport. She completed Elijas Lied during the negotiations, so a two-book deal was reached. Fortunately, we won’t have to wait very long for her second work after this impressive debut.
Amanda Lasker-Berlin: Elijas Lied
Frankfurt: Franfurter Verlagsanstalt, 2020 256 S.