Virginia Barton

Yesterday’s life on a Berlin estate

Catholic Herald, 22 June 1990  


Review: Eels with Dill Sauce by Countess von Bredow (Peter Owen, £12.95).


The next time someone says “what do you want for your birthday?” do ask for Eels with Dill Sauce – the book, that is.

These “memories of an eccentric childhood” are totally delicious. They bring tears of laughter, and nostalgia to anyone brought up in the country before agro-business and city-spread leaked into the landscape.

9780720608014_p0_v1_s260x420The setting of these memories is a dilapidated estate just east of Berlin, the time between the wars. That elusive quality, humour, has travelled and translated remarkably well, probably because country life in those days was much the same from Galway to Astrakhan.

The author confines her story to the small stage of her father’s estate and peoples it with a wild variety of animals, relatives, villagers and visitors. Some of these – Kuki the hen, the spinster Zech, the author’s delightfully batty parents – will join the international lore of literature.

Are country people more interesting and eccentric than townsfolk? Does their “isolation” mean they are freer to develop idiosyncrasies?  Countess von Bredow, endowed with amazing recall and acute perception, brings to the reader a fresh and intimate portrait of people and places which is very appealing. One can smell the manure, touch the riverbank, feel the rain.

The book has been a bestseller in Germany for months and will, I feel sure, be equally successful here. If the birthday ruse fails, get it for yourself, give it, lend it, borrow it. Whatever which way, do read it.


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