How war shapes a country: a review of Nora Krug's "Belonging"


Pondering difficult questions of her own cultural background, German author Nora Krug asks the questions of what belonging is and what that means to her. To belong to a culture of Germans responsible for the unspeakable atrocities of World War II meant Krug was challenging the very idea that she should belong to that culture. Though she was born several dozen years after the fall of the Nazis, the actions would cast a shadow on her life. Searching for answers, Krug's graphic memoir wrestles with home and her self.


For a German civilian to recognize and understand the actions of Nazi Germany would shake anyone to the bone. Like a scientist studying her own brain through fMRI or a philosopher accounting for his personal story with depression, Krug both detaches herself from who she is while becoming intimately close to it. It's a delicate balance between self-criticism and appreciation for the value it is that makes Krug's story tricky and challenging. Krug fortunately approaches these issues and limitations by capturing the images of Nazi Germany memories and stories with an empathetic brushstroke. By invoking symbolic images and a subdued art style, Krug invites the reader to join her in asking intense questions that represented history. "Are Jews evil?" "What is my home?" "Where do I belong?" "Who am I?" These questions accompany stylized pictures of people that appear both fundamentally flawed in their thinking and terrifyingly real. I find myself shocked, yet soothed that my reactions and perceptions are okay to experience.

To manage and interpret these feelings of guilt and shame mixed with a pride that any ordinary individual would hope to have for themselves, Krug's interviews and anecdotes account for the abhorrently evil actions that shaped the past. To be a German is to understand the notion of Heimat, or the German word for the place that forms us. As humans, this responsibility to society and humanity in general means they must account for their decisions. For Germans, this means a humble, gentle remembrance of what mankind is capable of and determining what that means for the future. Other aspects of the memoir, such as the tender pacing between panels and scenes allow the reader to become truly close to Krug's thoughts. The shock and sorrow the reader experiences parallel the shared responsibility Germans have for recollecting and understanding the meaning of their past. Contrasting the realistic photographs with comical, nearly bizarre, human faces, Krug almost invokes a dark sense of humor. This would be humor that one may realize their own dark history to fully move on and recover as a nation. 

Does war ever leave a country? Or does it plague mankind forever? A German may worry that sort of patriotism might be a reminiscent eulogy of the days of Nazi Germany. Despite the end of the war and the dismantling of Nazi Germany, the humans of today continue to struggle to understand their purpose and meaning in life. One might even argue that the journey of looking for meaning is much more important the destination itself. Similar to the Myth of Sisyphus, we imagine ourselves content in grappling with questions of existence despite never having completely satisfying answers. Nora sets out to really find the truth about what her family did in what seems like a way to absolve her of her guilt. There's no deux ex machina or dramatic catharsis of guilt and tragedy. Krug only wants answers. She wants to know what happened even if it does'nt make her feel better. For her to put this paramount truth above all else gives her a much more objective and sublime look at her own past. I hope the reader can pick up the book and wonder what their past means for them.