West Germany, 1988: Jonathan Fabrizius has a comfortable existence in Hamburg, bankrolled by his uncle, when he receives a letter from a luxury car company, commissioning him to travel in their newest model through the People’s Republic of Poland and to write about the route. Little does the company know that their choice location is Jonathan’s birthplace, for Jonathan is a war orphan from former East Prussia, whose mother breathed her last fleeing the Russians and whose father, a Nazi soldier, was killed on the Baltic coast.
The emotional punch of Kempowski’s satirical narrative lurks throughout ... 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, Marrow and Bone 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.
Kempowski’s deadpan tone makes the callous reactions of Jonathan and his two German traveling companions even more chilling. Of course, the callousness also makes most of the characters fairly unlikable ... Yet it’s troubling that Kempowski doesn’t seem to notice his characters’ most disturbing example of indifference ... piercing.
... just as a reader is settling in for a long, coldhearted meditation on irony, the road trip across Poland begins, and a novel of broad historical and emotional significance unfolds. Kempowski captures the zeitgeist of pre-unification Germany in sharp, darkly engaging prose ... Probing a part of WWII that few Americans know, Kempowski reveals how the damage goes on long after the guns fall silent.