It is 1988, the year before the Berlin Wall came down. Jonathan Fabrizius, a journalist living in West Germany, is asked to travel to the contested lands of former East Prussia - where the Nazi legacy lives on in buildings and fortifications - to write about the route for a car rally, and come face to face with his painful family history, and devastating questions about ordinary Germans' complicity in the war.
Homeland, first published in Germany... in 1992, now out in English for the first time, remains fresh, wise, very funny and intuitive ... Kempowski’s laconic, all-knowing voice, so brilliantly effective in the masterful All For Nothing (2006) and conveyed flawlessly in the late Anthea Bell’s 2015 translation, is impressively in evidence here in Charlotte Collins’s nuanced, ironic translation — particularly in the dialogue and the sequences concerning the protagonist’s inner thoughts ... Poised and well observed, Homeland is remarkable, a very human narrative featuring a likeable Everyman. For all the robust humour, there are moments of dazzling clarity capable of turning the heartiest laugh into a sudden gasp of empathy.
Homeland is less ambitious than All for Nothing, Kempowski’s previous novel to be translated into English ... Nevertheless, it is a superb minor-key performance. Kempowski’s stylish prose evokes an atmosphere of serene normality, which is craftily punctured every so often. This novel asks whether there can really be anything normal about a society that murdered six million Jews only a few decades previously.
Kempowski, who was himself a former East Prussian and whose father, a Wehrmacht soldier, also died in the spring of 1945, is widely considered a titan of European literature. It is therefore suspicious that it has taken 20 years for this particular book to be translated, and unsurprising if it disappoints ... Homeland can only look like a cheap trick. It is not a nuanced portrait of German guilt. Instead, with its equivalences between fishing... and the Armenian Genocide... the novel simply feels clumsy rather than bold — provocative in a rather tiresome, teenage-boy sort of way. Homeland’s overriding aftertaste is one of general befuddlement.