In her debut novel, published this April, Meike Ziervogel reinvigorates a topic that has been visited countless times before. Magda sees the rise and fall of Nazi Germany through the perspectives of three women: Magda Goebbels, the wife of Hitler’s propaganda minister, her daughter Helga, and her mother. Effortlessly unifying fact and fiction, Ziervogel’s exclusive use of female perspective to broach the subject of life under Nazi rule is a bold decision that pays off; Magda becomes as much about destructive mother-daughter relationships as it is about Hitler’s innermost circle of Nazi associates, and is a novel with deeper reaching implications because of it.
The author’s portrayal of how it is impossible to grow up untainted by the cruelties of Nazi rule is brutal; she masterfully exposes how the concept of childhood is distorted and broken in the suffocating confines of Hitler’s bunker, putting the reader in the difficult position of empathising with the enemy. Heavy irony abounds in Magda; the use of ‘Dear Gretchen’ to begin the diary account of Helga’s experience of growing up confined in Hitler’s bunker draws a painfully bitter parallel with Anne Frank’s own ‘Dear Kitty’, collapsing the conventional dichotomies between victim and oppressor the reader may expect. This is part of Ziervogel’s intention to show how every relationship in the novel is toxic, the characters’ capacity for love eaten away by the awareness that their lives as the most powerful and untouchable citizens in Germany are coming to an end.
Where Ziervogel really shines is in her expert handling of the narrative’s chronology; weaving back and forth over different points in the three women’s lives, she enables the reader to piece together an innate understanding of the motives behind Magda Goebbels, the woman who was capable of murdering her six children when she knew Germany has been defeated. While this makes for uneasy, and sometimes agonising reading, the end result is worth it; one comes away unable to forget Ziervogel’s haunting insight into one of the Nazi’s most notorious female members.