For the seasoned biography-reader, the name Stefanie Zweig might at first make him or her do a double take. After all, it is not everyday that we come across with monikers resembling that of the famous Austrian writer, Stefan Zweig, who penned, amongst others, important works such as the following texts: 'Joseph Fouché', 'Mary Stuart' and 'Conqueror of the Seas: The Story of Magellan'.
However, it is with the German-Jewish writer Stefanie Zweig's memoir 'Nowhere in Africa' with which we are dealing in this post. This book served as the basis for the 2001 film of the same name.
'Nowhere in Africa' (in German 'Nirgendwo in Afrika') details the travails of the Redlich family as they flee Nazi persecution in their native Silesia only to end up in the middle of the Kenyan countryside. The movie explores the problems they face in adapting to a foreign land, especially Frau Jettel, whilst at the same time looking at the last world conflagration from a different angle.
Whereas most flicks about World War II focus on Europe, the Nazi occupation and the concentration camps, 'Nowhere In Africa' concentrates on the refugee's mindset. And it is an interesting perspective indeed. Walter, the father and a former lawyer, adopts his newfound farmer's role compliantly. His wife, Jettel, hates the locals, loathes the conditions in which they live and pines for her old life. Their daughter, Regina, quickly makes friends with some of the Kenyan kids and adjusts to the new situation. In the midst of all this ordeal, it should not come as a surprise that Walter and Jettel's marriage begins to deteriorate.
When war breaks out the Redlich family is forced to go to a detention camp where men and women are kept separate. Jettel sleeps with a German-speaking British officer to ensure that her family has both a home and work to go back to. Unfortunately her daughter Regina and Walter find out. Once outside their enclosure, Mr Redlich joins the British army, whilst Regina is sent to a boarding school. Jettel stays behind to run the farm. During this time, an old German friend of Walter's, Süsskind, frequents his house, thus planting the idea in the former's head that his wife is having an affair with Süsskind. When the war ends one of the options is to return to Germany, however the couple struggle to come up with a decision. Jettel has finally fallen in love with the country she used to abhor, as well as enjoying the result of her labour. Walter has the opportunity to become a judge in the new Germany.
'Nowhere in Africa' is a film full of symbolisms. From the expansive, open sea the Redlich family crosses to get to Nairobi, to the dry plains in their African surroundings, these tokens suggest freedom and captivity, resolution and impasse. All the characters, from the astute Süsskind to the loyal Owuor, are nuanced, rounded and believable. One of the most poignant moments in the movie for me was when a plague of locusts attack the fields which Jettel and the other farmers have been tending to. We see her first feeling downtrodden and tearful when the swarm becomes too difficult to handle, then we hear the banging on pots and pans by the locals to scare away the insects and see Jettel joining in. Finally, when the pestilence is pushed away we see her face beaming with joy. It's as if at that moment Jettel has had an epiphany that runs along the lines of: 'I belong here, this is home!'.
'Nowhere in Africa' is one of the most sincere tributes to the human disaster caused by the Second World War I have seen in a long time. I strongly recommend it.
I would like to thank both Polly from Sotto Voce and Willow from Life at Willow Manor for reviewing this film on their respective blogs. Without their input it would have probably taken me ages to rent this movie, lazy sod that I can be sometimes. Ta muchly.
Next Post: 'Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music' to be published on Sunday 18th October at 10:00am (GMT)