To Eva, Maggie was like a gift from God, a God who often was unkind, as anyone who’s read the bible knows. Eva knew suffering, so when something miraculous came along- a niece who was more like an angel, a twin in a different time, as if her own youth were given a new chance at life- she knew to be grateful.
Eva carries her suffering from her head all the way down to her legs, troubled by varicose veins. When she isn’t spending her days dodging the skinheads outside her apartment building in East Berlin, which feels more slum than home, she is washing pills (not as easy to obtain now that she is a retired nurse) down with sour wine as she listens to blues records and waits on her lover Hansi. She knows all too well about the blues, lyrics she can feel in her soul. Her beloved niece Maggie lives in America and writes her beautiful letters, ones that even Eva’s young neighbor Krista looks forward to. Krista gives her more attention and care than her own daughter, Elena, the poor girl’s life revolving around her ailing mother and has become a friend of sorts to her. Eva is beyond thrilled that Maggie plans to move to Berlin, as if choosing her over her own mother (Eva’s younger sister Liezel) and though Eva shouldn’t delight in it, she does. Liezel turned her back on the past, embracing the materialism, greed, and western values long ago and there is muddied water under the bridge of their sisterhood. It feels like a small victory that Maggie is becoming more like her, even if Eva has never been political, the two are like twin souls. Maggie, who hates America and cares for the poor, feels more like her true child having always reminded her of her own sister when she was still sweet, when Eva had to raise her as her own after their mother’s death. Elena, her daughter, resembles Eva’s dead husband Hugo (a Jewish atheist) more than her in looks and temperament and the two have a strained relationship. Elena seems to blame her for raising her in the GDR, for having no father (as if Hugo’s death was her fault) and Eva’s heartache and disappointment that Elena seems like a child still, the very embodiment of underachievement, has diluted their bond. Worse, Elena doesn’t think much of Hansi, who means everything to Eva. She has remained in Berlin for him more than any other reason.
Middle-aged though the lovers may be, Eva still gets high on Hansi’s touch, the very brawn of him and his ‘air of menace’ excites her like nothing else. He has his secrets and she loves his mystery, doesn’t dare to ask how he affords his lifestyle, the nice car, his many privileges. There is anger living beneath his skin, but Eva knows better than to question his business dealings, she is good at waiting, a steadfast woman and wise enough to keep the desperation she feels to always have him beside her well hidden. If she wishes his wife were dead, well who could blame her? What has life in the GDR taught her but to not question things? To ignore trouble? To accept whatever demands and restrictions life, or dear Hansi, puts on her?
In her joy with her ‘angel’ Maggie’s arrival, she fails to notice danger even when it smacks her in the face. Maggie and her boyfriend Tom begin to seem ‘off balance’, her lovely nice begins to lose her shine, her fresh beauty. When everything goes off the rails, how much is Eva to blame, for being blind to reality? Don’t all grown women have their ‘troubles’, it’s a part of growing up, right? How are Tom and her niece’s troubles tied to her Hansi? She can’t keep her eyes closed and make excuses forever.
Eva is first to defends the GDR, freely admitting it had its flaws while pointing out that the whole world has imperfect systems too. In fact, at times, crime seems worse now, as if everyone is on their own. The West is just about having ‘stuff’, she declares, while clinging to the robe from her Hansi and moved by her jazz and blues records. She’s allowed to be contrary, no? She is morose, but her life has been full of small tragedies and betrayals. Family alienation not the least of it, haunted by dreams about her dead husband as guilt and shame weighs her down, but what is she to do? Never move on? A perceptive story about how one family is affected by the changes of their country and how clinging to the hurts of the past can harm the present. Eva isn’t always likeable, she often seems indifferent or numb, but it is how she’s survived her situations, deflected pain. Addiction, to drugs and unhealthy love.
Publication Date: May 18, 2021