New York Times illustrator Nora Krug uses comics, collage, narrative and found documents to explore her ambivalent feelings of nostalgia and guilt for her German family's wartime past. A fascinating historical detective story!
A revelatory, visually stunning graphic memoir by award-winning artist Nora Krug, telling the story of her attempt to confront the hidden truths of her family’s wartime past in Nazi Germany and to comprehend the forces that have shaped her life, her generation, and history.
Nora Krug was born decades after the fall of the Nazi regime, but the Second World War cast a long shadow throughout her childhood and youth in the city of Karlsruhe, Germany. For Nora, the simple fact of her German citizenship bound her to the Holocaust and its unspeakable atrocities and left her without a sense of cultural belonging. Yet Nora knew little about her own family’s involvement in the war: though all four grandparents lived through the war, they never spoke of it.
In her late thirties, after twelve years in the US, Krug realizes that living abroad has only intensified her need to ask the questions she didn’t dare to as a child and young adult. Returning to Germany, she visits archives, conducts research, and interviews family members, uncovering in the process the stories of her maternal grandfather, a driving teacher in Karlsruhe during the war, and her father’s brother Franz-Karl, who died as a teenage SS soldier in Italy. Her extraordinary quest, spanning continents and generations, pieces together her family’s troubling story and reflects on what it means to be a German of her generation.
Belonging wrestles with the idea of Heimat, the German word for the place that first forms us, where the sensibilities and identity of one generation pass on to the next. In this highly inventive visual memoir—equal parts graphic novel, family scrapbook, and investigative narrative—Nora Krug draws on letters, archival material, flea market finds, and photographs to attempt to understand what it means to belong to one’s country and one’s family. A wholly original record of a German woman’s struggle with the weight of catastrophic history, Belonging is also a reflection on the responsibility that we all have as inheritors of our countries’ pasts.
About the Author
Nora Krug’s drawings and visual narratives have appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Le Monde diplomatique. Her short-form graphic biography, Kamikaze, about a surviving Japanese WWII pilot, was included in the 2012 editions of Best American Comics and Best American Nonrequired Reading. Her animations were shown at Sundance, and she is the recipient of fellowships from the Maurice Sendak Foundation, Fulbright, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, and of medals from the Society of Illustrators and the New York Art Directors Club. She is an associate professor in the Illustration Program at Parsons School of Design in New York and lives in Brooklyn with her family. Krug is the author of the graphic memoir, Belonging.
“A mazy and ingenious reckoning with the past … Krug is a tenacious investigator, ferreting out stories from the wispiest hints — a rumor or a mysterious photograph … Even as she fills in the missing details, the stories are left open-ended; there is no rush to condemn or redeem, merely to get as close to the truth as possible … The wisdom of this book is that it does not claim to [wash away stains, mend scars, make whole.] The notion of ‘consolation’ is one I suspect Krug would regard with suspicion. What she seems in pursuit of is a better quality of guilt … That’s where honor seems to lie, this book suggests: in the restless work of remembering, in the looking again, the recalibration and the revision. In getting the whole picture, and getting it right.” —New York Times
“Pick up Nora Krug's reverberant graphic memoir, Belonging, and be prepared to lose yourself for hours in this unstinting investigation into her conflicted feelings about being German and her family's role in the Holocaust. In its searching honesty and multi-layered, visual and verbal storytelling, it packs the power of Alison Bechdel's Fun Home and David Small's Stitches… Krug writes about mending and reparations, but she doesn't let herself—or readers—lapse into complacence.” —NPR.org
“In her profound and dense illustrated memoir Belonging: A German Reckons With History And Home, illustrator Nora Krug examines her national identity and her family’s history to try to explain why Germans are the way they are by delving into the Hitler-era questions she has about her own family ... Krug’s book is as valuable as it is personable, a reminder that humans are the ones living through history and that their lives seldom live up to the binary demands of our right or wrong way of thinking." —Comics Beat
"Deeply personal—and deeply moving ... As multilayered as memory, the book intertwines text, photo, graphic art, and thematic complexity into a revelation almost as powerful for readers as it must have been for the author." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Lush as it is meticulous ... This work of stunning craftmanship stands as a testament to speaking out as a necessary first step to healing." —Publishers Weekly
"A deep and affecting mix of text and illustration." —Booklist
“Nora Krug has created a beautiful visual memoir of a horrific time in history. A time that torments us to this day. Asking questions and searching for the truth, she will not turn away from the legacy of her family and her country. She asks the question of how any of us survive our family history. Ultimately, the only course is not to veil the answers.” —Maira Kalman, author of Beloved Dog and My Favorite Things
“Belonging is an astoundingly honest book that conducts a devastating—and irresistible—investigation into one family’s struggle with the forces of history. I could not stop reading it, and when I was done, I could not stop thinking about it. By going so deeply into her family’s history, Krug has in some ways written about us all.” —Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm and Tribe
“To belong to a place is not to be able to choose what it takes from you. But we can choose what we take from it. Nora Krug takes from her German homeland, and then gives to us, a sense of what it is like to be German today, and a guide to how a reckoning with the past can begin.” –Tim Snyder, author of On Tyranny and The Road to Unfreedom
“A page-turning scrapbook/collage of memory, meaning and accountability, Ms. Krug draws the reader through her family history with the directness of imagery, handwriting and, ultimately, a disquieting direness that has echoes in our American life, right now. Belonging is valuable, readable and, needless to say, highly recommended.” —Chris Ware, author of Building Stories
“As the Jewish heir of grandparents who themselves had to flee the upsurge of fascism in their German homelands, I found granddaughter Nora Krug’s heartrending investigation of her own family’s painstakingly occluded history through those years especially moving. But as an American living through these, our very own years of a seemingly inexorable drift into one’s still not quite sure what, I found Krug’s achingly realized graphic memoir downright unsettling, for what will our own grandchildren one day make of us and our own everyday compromises and failures to attend?” —Lawrence Weschler, author, among others, of Calamities of Exile and A Miracle, A Universe: Settling Accounts with Torturers
"Belonging is a heart wrenching, suspenseful and fascinating odyssey that straddles, and seeks to uncover, an uncharted, inaccessible, unfathomable past. It is a kaleidoscope of interrupted lives, leading inexorably to its ultimate conclusion. I couldn't stop reading it." —Hava Beller, writer and director of The Restless Conscience