Meike Ziervogel: Magda (review)

9781907773402frcvr.inddLately my cultural life has somehow gotten a common theme. And not a nice theme. Recently the latest – and maybe last – movie by the Danish director Niels Malmros has gotten a lot of attention in Danish medias since it’s a very personal movie about his personal life and how his wife killed their infant daughter 29 years ago. His wife suffered from manic depression which had turned into a psychosis. It seems to be a strong and powerful story about love and how you don’t need to forgive someone if you never blamed them in the first place. This has caused other similar stories to appear. On top of that, I just read a book where a mother kills her baby – and now I’m reading Magda; a book about Magda Goebbels and how she killed all six of her children. I wouldn’t mind a happier theme soon!

I never knew about Magda Goebbels and what she did before watching Der Untergang. In this movie, there’s a very powerful scene where we watches Magda kill five of her children in their sleep by giving them poison and then forcing her eldest who wakes up and realizes what’s going on, to also ingest the poison. And when I then heard that Meike Ziervogel had written about Magda, I definitely knew I had to read that book.
Magda is just a short book, a 115 pages novella. In this short span of pages, Ziervogel both deals with Magda’s childhood and difficult relationship with her mother and the father who left, as well as Magda’s love life and her first meeting with Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels. The story is told both from Magda herself, from her mother and in diary pages from Magda’s oldest daughter, Helga. We get to experience what life was in the Führer Bunker in the final days in Berlin in World War II and what it’s like to be a teenage girl experiencing first love in rather unfortunate circumstances as well as a mother’s dread for what will happen with her children after the war if they are named Goebbels.

While this for me definitely was a powerful read that left my lying awake after finishing it and being slightly disturbed by Magda’s action and wondering what – if anything – she could have done otherwise and reflecting on what I would have done in the same situation – and what a mother must feel, killing her six children, the book was not as good as I had hoped. I think it would have benefitted from more pages – there was simply too much story, too many details, too many viewpoints and too much sadness for 115 pages.
I also couldn’t help comparing it to Beloved and the far stronger story of a former slave who kills her daughter to save her from becoming a slave. The action is the same. Magda  even does it in a much kinder way – but still I feel more for the mother in Beloved, maybe because you were forced to become a slave, you were not forced to become a Nazi. And I know that’s not completely fair or even true but I think that’s why. Or maybe it’s just because that Magda, while being a very good read, just isn’t as good a read as Beloved. Still, I recommend reading both as they are both interesting and thought provoking.

First line: Magda enters Joseph’s study without knocking.

  • Title: Magda
  • Author: Meike Ziervogel
  • Publisher: Salt
  • Year: 2013
  • Pages: 115 pages
  • Source: Kindle
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

I read this for Rick’s Novellas in November challenge.

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4 thoughts on “Meike Ziervogel: Magda (review)

  1. I loved Magda, but agree that Beloved was a more powerful book. If anything that scene in Beloved went too far. I found it too disturbing and became haunted by it. I felt Magda struck the right balance and managed to be thought provoking without being disturbing.

  2. I remember reading about this when it first came out and there was quite a lot about it on the book programmes as well. I know that it’s not the sort of book I would ever pick up voluntarily but at the same time it seems cowardly to run away from something that really did happen and a decision that a woman felt she had to take.

  3. Downfall is such a powerful film and that scene in particular really had an effect on me. I’ve seen this book around but didn’t know exactly what it was about until reading your review. I think I’d like to read it.

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