Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius, translated by Jamie Bulloch

Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman is billed as a single sentence, but that’s not where the charm lies (nor in the Joycean inflections) – though ‘charm’ there certainly is in this hesitant, expectant monologue of a pregnant German woman in Rome. It’s 1943, her husband’s at war and she is on her way to listen to a Bach concert. The monologue is structured by the woman’s walk through the city, it becomes a detailed, personal, psychological map of a city read through the body of a pregnant woman, and I turn to it again and again for the attention it gives to the architecture, to the textures of brick and stone, the steps and bridges, rivers and views. Unable to read Italian, ignorant to the realities of war, the woman’s monologue has a touching naïvety to it that only starts to fall away in the very last pages.

First published as ‘Bildnis Der Mutter Als Junge Frau’, 2006. This first English translation, Peirene, 2010