A Small Person Far Away by Judith Kerr

A Small Person Far Away by Judith Kerr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Small Person Far Away is the third of Kerr’s thinly veiled autobiographies. It begins with When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and after that: Bombs on Aunt Dainty, and then here: Berlin, post war, and Anna being called to her mother’s side after she is taken into hospital.

I had first read this trilogy a long while ago and then again a couple of years since and not thought of rereading them much since. They were good things, I knew, and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit remained sat in a precise and clean corner of my heart marked ‘classics that we love entirely, forever’, but I had not really thought of rereading the others. But then I saw all of them in a library while I was doing an event and then again in a charity book shop the next day, for the first time in years, and knew it was a sign. Sometimes you come to books and sometimes the books come to you.

I was glad that I did for they are complex and frank things which see Anna figure out how to live in a post-war world that is still trying to figure it out for itself. The impact of the war is there, subtly in the background, always lurking and ready to pounce again. Houses have changed, buildings are being built up again, brick by brick, and people constantly tell Anna that they were never Nazis, oh no, not them. It’s a tense book, I think, and deceptively so because of Kerr’s great grace in her writing. She is very precise and clean in how she works and that can make it feel ‘simple’, almost. That’s there’s no depth. And yet, if you just pause a moment, it’s all there and always was. I love that about her work. The elegance of it, the subtlety.

This is a book that isn’t afraid to be unlikeable, and I think that’s also interesting. Anna finds herself reflecting on how good certain situations would be if she wrote them and castigates herself, almost, for thinking about them like that. Her relationship with her mother is not particularly pleasant nor positive on either side, and even the side-characters become a little bit awkward, a little bit stiff. And I think there’s something in here about how life as a refugee impacts you (there is a conversation with her brother that touches very beautifully on their life) and how it must have been to go back to a world that you had to escape from. How it felt to be back in the city that tried to kill you and your family.

I think what I’m trying to say is that this isn’t Kerr’s best writing by any means, nor her best book, but I think it might be one of the most complex and adult. It doesn’t succeed all the time, nor does it feel particularly reader-friendly nor indeed comfortable with what it’s saying but underneath all of that, there’s still something sharp and nuanced and fascinating to me.

I suppose it all boils down to this: Anna persists. In all her messy and raw honesty, Anna persists.

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