FAMILY MATTERS follows the traces of a German family that, over generations, continues to cross the Atlantic in both directions. Like Elizabeth and Henry who, at the beginning of the 20th century, are forced to leave their beloved New York to return to the old country; the violinist Clara who can only live her passion for music in the American of the suffragettes; the war bride Toni, who courageously follows a G.I. to Nebraksa after World War II; and, finally, the student Iris who is trying to find her place in both worlds in the 1980s. Looking back, they all ask the same question: „What if . . . ?” What if they had not gone to America, or back to the old country? If they had not fallen in love? What if they had taken that other road and pursued their dreams a bit more forcefully?
FAMILY MATTERS takes ordinary, yet memorable characters out of the yellowed pictures in the photo albums, gives them a voice and places them in their own time. Martina J. Kohl revives the past. She shows that today cannot be understood without the yesterday. And that migration, uprooting and the search for belonging are universal themes.
About the Book
“Martina Kohl, in her novel FAMILY MATTERS, has woven generations of her German family into a web of memoir and fiction in an imaginative and original way. Based on photographs, letters, story – the characters and their colorful personalities become very real to us. In the process of stoytelling, Martina Kohl provides a glimpse not only into her family’s past, but the conflicts faced by many Europeans trying to forge new lives in America. This book is a pleasure to read as it does not include one extra word! It is concise, thoughtful and marvelous.”
—Mindy Weisel, artist and author of Daughters of Absence and After: The Obligation of Beauty
“… a moving story indeed – as so many in that century”
—Volker Schlöndorff, film director of The Tin Drum (Oscar for best foreign film)
and Return to Montauk
“[This] story is wonderfully good. Mysterious, deeply moving, and so well written!—on “Life in a Frame”
I’ve now read [your book], with immense pleasure. Will it surprise you if I say that I’m particularly fond of the very serious, very competent graduate student who decides that her future is in her own country?
Congratulations and endless thanks for allowing me to read Family Matters!”
—Louis Begley, author of Wartime Lies and
the Schmidt trilogy
“No one but Martina J. Kohl, uniquely positioned as a liaison between Germany and America, could have written this fabulous collection that links continents, eras, and lives. The eight stories, sprung from family lore, documents, and photographs, reach deep resonance through the power of Kohl’s reimagining. Her compassion and insight into her characters renders them unforgettable.”
—Beth Ann Fennelly, author of
Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs
“FAMILY MATTERS, Martina Kohl’s moving collection of linked tales drawn from family lore and memory, whisks across time and place, tapping the heartbreak of missed opportunities and regret and the lingering longing passed down as an intangible heirloom from generation to generation. A transatlantic saga of leapfrogging between Germany and the United States, the author mines the dreams and disappointments of her great-grandparents, German immigrants who opted to return to Germany. In so doing, Kohl, a German author who studied in the States and writes eloquent English, peels away the particularities of her own dual identity, sounding the depths of her complex, divided attachment to two cultures and mindsets.”
—Peter Wortsman, author of The Tattooed Man Tells All and Stimme und Atem / Out of Breath, Out of Mind
“Not your typical immigration story. Instead, this accessible narrative explores the engagement and embrace or rejection of America by four generations of a German family. Along the way, we explore their differing perceptions and the diverse fates over more than a century of trans-Atlantic migration in both directions. This is a window not only into a family, but also to two countries over time and to the process of migration.”
—Dr. David Goldfield, Robert Lee Bailey Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and editor of the Journal of Urban History
“The tree has roots. Martina Kohl excavates hers, transacting New and Old Worlds in a way that not only sheds light on her own life voyage, and that of her German-American-then German again family, but she does so in a way that touches on all families. The desires of youth, reflections of later life, the obstacles, opportunities, frustrations and triumphs between. The writer probes each with courage, passion, and tremendous imagination; a timeless voyage in quest of horizons not only external, but internal. This is an epic tale, compacted brilliantly into 100 or so heartfelt pages that will move the reader to consider their own roots, and destinies.”
—Michael Lederer, author of Cadaqués and recipient of the 2019 PAGE INTERNATIONAL SCREENWRITING AWARD for Saving America.
“Martina Kohl’s captivating and deeply personal tale of the push and pull between the old world and new is rendered through a wonderfully vivid and finely-nuanced telling that we have the privilege of living through together with the family at its center. With an astute eye to the details that define each of these two distinct cultures, and doing so in a story that unfolds over the course of a century and no less, she weaves a narrative that is as memorable as it is moving. As a European-American with feet firmly rooted in the soil of each continent, the story rings unequivocally true—as it will for anyone who has come to know both sides of the Atlantic.“
—Kelly Nykes, New York Times Best Seller and Emmy-nominated filmmaker of
Requiem for the American Dream and The Age of Consequences