Is this a road trip or a journey back in time? The German and English covers of Töchter/Daughters tell the same story in different ways. Just getting into the car and driving south to get away from it all – even end it all – is still basically impossible for most of us. It was delightful to read about two women (and their fathers) who did exactly that.
After Helen Vassallo’s rave review of Sinéad Crowe’s English translation, I whizzed off to buy Lucy Fricke’s German original and set up the ITI German Network book club to make sure I read it (and other books in German of course, but this one made me do it). Our responses to the book were as different as the covers. Between us, we read it in both languages, on paper and on screen, and even listened to the German radio play on NDR.
The tight structure, minimal cast, and increasingly dramatic turns of events felt perfect for a play. The final island setting, longshots of sunflower seed shells and overflowing ashtrays – and befuddling closing cameo of a donkey – could also work really well on film. Is this the German Thelma and Louise?
But for a book, I am old-fashioned and like more than the good story that Daughters undoubtedly is. I like to believe in what happens next to the characters, and I sometimes had to suspend my disbelief in Daughters. Anyone who has been around loved ones dying, by choice or not, is more than aware of how messy and unresolved it can be. This version tied the loose ends up too neatly.
That said, Daughters starts real and faces reality head on. The pre-pandemic context of a despairing AirBnB owner freelancing in Berlin (gosh, I miss Berlin!) was beautifully sketched. The council blocks in Hannover where the two best friends grew up were spot on. The two women – Betty and Martha – were real with each other and about their lives, and their tale is laced with black humour. Germans can be romantic about the “south”, especially Italy, and Fricke faces that head on, too.
Women in midlife are in the middle of this story. I’ve barely mentioned their fathers yet – but part of the point of this book is how absent they were from their daughters’ lives, and what effect that has.
You can see why Daughters was a bestseller in Germany. It is a deceptively quick and easy read that will stay with you afterwards. It’s not the ride of your life, but it’s absolutely a journey worth taking.