Summer of My German Soldier/Morning Is a Long Time Coming
For the last two years, my friend and I have been somewhat obsessively reading books to one another over the phone. It’s been a great way to share books with each other that the other person doesn’t have access to. So far we are up to 34 books, not counting reading through the Bible to each other (we’re almost through Jeremiah), or short stories, or our re-readings of A Childhood in Scotland.
The latest two she has read to me have been Bette Greene’s Summer of My German Soldier and Morning Is a Long Time Coming. There will be some spoilers in what I have to say, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading now.
My mom had a copy of Summer of My German Soldier, and I know she liked it (although I never saw her reading it). It was up on the shelf with other books that I kind of understood to be off-limits to me. Whether it actually was or not is another story, but whatever. Anyway, my friend has told me multiple times that she wanted to read it to me, and we finally got to it a few weeks ago. BOY what a story. I loved it. It was so beautiful while also being so painfully sad. Such a dysfunctional family, I tell you. I adored the diversity and liveliness of the characters, if not the characters themselves (PATTY’S PARENTS ARRRRGGGHHHH). I was super touched by the way Anton Reiker was so kind to Patty and helped her feel worthwhile.
Last night we finished the sequel, Morning Is a Long Time Coming, and we have mixed feelings about it. It takes up the story six years after the first book and chronicles Patty Bergen’s Quest for Closure (or something?), which involves going to Europe, Göttingen particularly, to find Anton’s mother, whom she daydreams near the close of Book 1 as becoming a mother to her, Patty, as well.
There’s a lot going on in MIaLTC, and a lot of it is great.
It’s realistic in its portrayal of an 18 year old girl setting out on her own and dealing with how messed up she is from her childhood and her parents’ treatment of her: she’s confused, she’s irrational, sometimes kind of dumb, but it all was believable to me. One of the themes (which I think carries over from SoMGS) is her longing for a mother, and it deals (somewhat unsatisfactorily) with the fact that Ruth was, for all practical purposes, Patty’s mother, but for some reason or other Patty can’t seem to come to grips with this. Is it because Ruth is black, and she can’t quite get over her prejudice? It’s obvious Patty loves Ruth with all her heart, and she wants to tell her this, but doesn’t have a way. I hope that at some post-canonical point Patty was able to convey her feelings to Ruth, to let her know how much she meant to her.
I was a little thrown by the friendships Patty forges with people on her ocean crossing. One is a potential love interest, who is temperamental and rude (like her father); the other is a girl who seems to want to remain friends after arriving in Paris. But both of these characters vapourise from view afterwards, despite having been developed enough that it felt weird that they just no longer existed after that.
Then there’s Patty’s relationship with Roger Auberon, which starts basically the moment she arrives in Paris. It happened overnight (quite literally) and he’s a good guy, if a bit impractical. Patty has a hard time reconciling that it’s okay for a man to not treat her like trash.
Where the book started to fall apart for me was the last few chapters, when Patty, fresh out of hospital from treatment for severe ulcers, goes to Göttingen against Roger’s wishes (they have a fight about it) and doctor’s orders, to follow her obsession with Anton’s family to whatever end it comes.
So we spend several chapters in Göttingen with a Sense of Impending Doom, and after a lot of waffling about and being terrified of the telephone, Patty learns that Anton’s mother is dead, and she leaves the city without telling Anton’s father or sister (whom she meets) any of the things she had planned to say to Mrs Reiker. It felt like a lot of wasted time somehow, although that section did have one of the best lines in the book:
I submitted my body to the telephone with the same sense of impending oblivion that a condemned man must experience at the moment of submission to the electric chair.
Oh, Patty. SO DRAMATIC. I love you.
Anyway, the book does have a hopeful ending despite the abovementioned Sense of Impending Doom.
I think I would have enjoyed the story more if it had dealt less with the Anton Reiker Incident, and more with just Patty’s growth as a person. It could have been a super strong standalone book; it felt a little strained trying to connect the two plots. Still, I was glad to read it and I think that, as sequels go, it was very good.
But perhaps my most burning question is WHAT HAPPENED TO ANTON’S RING BECAUSE THE SEQUEL NEVER SAYS SHE STILL WORE IT AND THIS TROUBLES ME A GREAT DEAL.
If you’ve read these, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them!
Eva was born in Jacksonville, Florida. She left that humidity pit at the age of three and spent the next twenty-one years in California, Idaho, Kentucky, and Washington before ending up in Oregon, where she now lives on a homestead in the western foothills with her husband and five children, two of whom are human.