When your father is a good-looking, idolised doctor and your mother a sophisticated, self-confident model everyone adores, your childhood can’t have been boring. Anuschka Roshani’s book is a tribute to her ageing parents that shines a light on the flaws as well as the glamour.
By Marit Borcherding
Two events inspired behavioural biologist and journalist Anuschka Roshani to write her book Komplizen (Accomplices) about her “memories of my living parents”: her own ageing process, starkly revealed by the daily glance into the mirror, and her father’s Parkinson’s disease. While she – all natural scientist – is rather dry and sarcastic in diagnosing her own status as a woman over fifty, she is downright shaken by her father’s illness. Far from being a “luminary”, he is turning into a frail man in need of help.
Deliberate eccentricityBut Roshani has a remedy for grief, helplessness and fear of death: Remembering her childhood and youth – with glamorous parents whose nonconformist ways stood out from the respectable bourgeois life of the early days of the Federal Republic.
There is her mother, a university-educated pedagogue and extravagant beauty whose modelling career allows her to achieve financial independence. She drives a convertible, hair blowing in the wind, and admonishes her beloved daughters “to never, ever, ever be dependent on a man” – she believes an excellent education is imperative for standing on one’s own feet. Roshani portrays her mother as an early feminist with sex appeal and a big heart who showers everyone with unconditional affection.
And then there’s her father: Having come to Germany from a privileged Tehran family to study medicine, his charming, confident manner and exotic looks soon make him a heartthrob extraordinaire. At one point, he has his hair shaved deliberately in the hopes that his admirers will finally leave him alone – just one episode of many that combine into a loving, living monument to Roshani’s headstrong, restless father. Picture a man constantly in search of boundaries to transgress, sauntering across the famous Berlin Ku’damm in a white shearling coat, not averse to consuming the occasional opium and thinking nothing of ordering 49 scoops of vanilla ice cream at a cafe all at once. But this cheerful man, this “devil of a fellow who has half of Berlin at his feet”, also has a darker, destructive side. Anuschka is just four years old when her parents’ marriage falls apart.
Light and shadowWhile her book is intended as a tribute, Roshani doesn’t shy away from the flaws and the darkness in both her own and her parents’ lives: Her maternal grandparents have never really accepted the “savage” from a “banana republic at the other end of the world”; to them, he remains the “shady Muslim“. And there are her father’s affairs, one of which ultimately leads to the break-up of both the dream couple and the entire family, a betrayal that leaves none of them undamaged. Yet Roshani’s parents remain close “accomplices” who are deeply fond of each other: Impressive the description of her father driving her mother to Holland for an abortion at a time when she is already happily living with another man.
All these stories are more than just a glimpse into private affairs; they shine a light on German society in the 1970s and 1980s and are well worth reading. The fact that appearances dominate substance in this country is deeply ingrained in Anuschka Roshani’s father – why else would he make her promise on his sickbed to always colour her grey roots and temples, if need be with mascara? “Bluffing is part of business”– nobody knows this better than the “expert for dying in beauty”.
Roshani, Anuschka: Komplizen: Erinnerungen an meine noch lebenden Eltern
Zürich; Berlin: Kein & Aber, 2018. 256 pages.