Zwei Wochen im Mai is the second autobiographical novel by Christine Nöstlinger. [Here’s my review of the first one, Maikäfer flieg.] The title literally means Two Weeks in May, but to my knowledge the book wasn’t translated.
Finished on: 6.3.2016
World War II has just ended and Christl and her family are slowly trying to get back to normal. That means, among other things, that Christl can go back to school and that she can take piano lessons now – even if she hates them. For Christl, though, what is more important than any of that is the plan she hatches with her best friend (even though he sometimes has that look and then you need to avoid him) Rudi to come into a little bit of money, and of course the dreamy Hansi.
I remembered Zwei Wochen im Mai much more strongly than I remembered Maikäfer flieg. It just made more of an impression. And also on re-reading as an adult, I would say that it is the stronger book of the two (although Maikäfer flieg was by no means weak). In any case I enjoyed it greatly.
Nöstlinger shines when she presents children’s perspectives as she does so clearly and without much judgement, even when she writes about her own childhood. In Zwei Wochen im Mai it’s only on the last few pages that she distances herself from that mode and comments on the story and what happened afterwards from her perspective as an adult. In those few pages, it becomes clear that there is still a lot of pain (or at least there was at the time of the writing) about the events she describes in the book that forever changed her view of and relationship with her father. It’s a touching perspective to read about and I wouldn’t want to have missed it.
But center stage in this novel is Christl trying to find her place in a post-war Vienna. As people start partly rebuilding, partly pretending nothing ever happened, Christl has practically no “before the war” to return to. Born in 1936, all she remembers is the war and its peace that is giving her a hard time to adjust to. Being on the cusp of adolescence and falling in love (and being fallen in love with) under these circumstances really isn’t easy and Christl’s fantastic streak sometimes provides relief, but also further worries.
Thus Nöstlinger paints a vivid picture of post-war Vienna on a grand scale and some of her own formative experiences on a very private, personal scale. These two parts strengthen each other and make this book an absolute delight to read.
Summarizing: Should not be missed.