Monday, October 1, 2012


The question of where I belong and where I come from has been at me again. Here I am in an English village with its own Steiner school, health shop and film society. I have a few friends and connections in this place, am on nodding terms with shopkeepers, and the woman behind the counter at the chemist knows my name and automatically ticks the medical exemption box for me. There is a cafe where the coffee is just right and people go with their laptops, it might almost be trendy Shoreditch. I love the terrain here, the forest, the combination of wildness and gentleness. But I don't feel as though I belong here or that this is where I'm from.

As a child I was never in a place long enough to feel that this is where my roots are. Germany perhaps, but that was partly fairy tale and something about Christmas that lodged itself in my imagination. And Germany is where my parents had to run from as refugees, so how can I come from there?

When I speak about the English I know I am not speaking about myself, and especially not when I speak about the English middle classes, though I am middle class. After the Olympics opening ceremony I said, yes, there was something quintessentially English about it: the disparate elements hit the moveable spot, the particular something that might almost miss the mark with its blurred boundaries between the ridiculous and the elegiac. You would only really get it if you were English, and I got it. But still.

I want my tribe, is that it? Some ongoing predicament of the diaspora Jew? I am not properly Jewish, even if the Nazis would have given me full marks. When my mother, on entering her twilight years, wanted to become a member of a local synagogue she was told she would have to convert - even though her father perished in Buchenwald - even though her mother (who was not born Jewish) did convert. But she converted in old age, and so it did not count, as far as my mother's eligibility was concerned. Blut und Boden, und was noch? And yet, when my son went on an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel, the organisation responsible welcomed anyone who had at least one Jewish (full-blooded) grandparent. He had two and a half. For the duration of that holiday, he belonged, and though he was not tempted to up sticks and make his life in Israel, he did for a short space feel a sense of belonging to a community where you acknowledge in your being that yes, you have this essential and unbreakable thing in common.

                                                                                            t-b-c ....


Mim said...

We're all descended from a tribe that left africa thousands of years ago.

Yours for wandering,

Reading the Signs said...

Mim :)

Cusp said...

....and some of us never feel like we really belong anywhere with, apparently, no good reason x

Reading the Signs said...

- you mean no good reason because we all come from the tribe that left Africa?

I think the feeling of not belonging is quite common - but the not coming from anywhere perhaps less so.. ?

Anna MR said...

I have said this before, but here goes again. My dad reckons that a feeling of not-belonging can be and is epigenetically passed on from one generation to another. Hence my sense of not-belonging would be explainable due to his being a refugee child (from Karelia, blah).

As my relationship with my dad is – for want of a better word – somewhat complicated, I will never as long as I live ever let him know that I feel there may be something in that.

Apart from all that, I've been thinking (a rare occurrence, to be sure) for a while now (getting rarer by the word) that blogging, especially when one illustrates it with images and/or video clips and so on, is very much like the writing of WG Sebald. Or maybe that Sebald's writing is something like blogging? I don't know. But I often feel that way, when a post absolutely wants a song or an illustrations, like I'm writing a (poor man's) version of Austerlitz.

[Anna MR suffers a full-body-burst due to an excess of self-aggrandising over-opinion on one's own writing. Don't worry, she totally deserved it.]


Reading the Signs said...

Yes, I remember you talking about this before - glad you reminded me of it.

Oh oh - I have never read any of Sebald's work and now feel I want to, and should but already have too much on my 'to read' pile. What have you read of his?

Anna MR said...

I would heartily recommend Austerlitz; I think you'd enjoy it. Beautifully written, unusual in its style, on a topic one cares about but covering most of human experience, and illustrated throughout (so rare these days, what). A book you can, in a sense, dip in and out of, as well, as it contains many smaller stories. Although then you might start losing the main plot line. Losing the plot is something I know a fair bit about, though, so should that happen, you can always turn to me for company.