Journal of Romance Studies

Dementia narratives in contemporary German women’s writing

Journal of Romance Studies (2017), 17, (3), 361–378.

Abstract

As the population ages and dementia becomes more commonplace, we have seen a corresponding increase in the frequency and popularity of works of fiction about this illness. This article looks at two recent German novels that feature characters with dementia, Katharina Hagena’s Der Geschmack von Apfelkernen [The Taste of Apple Seeds] (2008) and Kathrin Gerlof’s Alle Zeit [‘All the Time’] (2009). I explore how literary texts can encourage readers to engage with the human side of this dementia by allowing them to imagine what it might feel like to care for a loved one with this debilitating illness or to develop dementia themselves. I further examine how this insight can be made even more potent when the writer incorporates particular narrative strategies and stylistic devices that replicate the confusion and disorientation that are central to dementia. Ultimately, I make a case for the particular role that fictional literature can play in promoting empathy for people with dementia and their caregivers.

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Gerlof, Kathrin (2009) Alle Zeit (Berlin: Aufbau). Alle Zeit Google Scholar

Hagena, Katharina (2008) Der Geschmack von Apfelkernen (Köln: Kiepenheuer & Witsch). Der Geschmack von Apfelkernen Google Scholar

Hagena, Katharina (2013) The Taste of Apple Seeds, trans. Jamie Bulloch (London: Atlantic). The Taste of Apple Seeds Google Scholar

Heffernan, Valerie (2015) ‘Matrilineal narrative and the feminist family romance’, in German Women‘s Writing in the Twenty-First Century, ed. Hester Baer and Alexandra Merley Hill (Rochester, NY: Camden House), 37–53. Matrilineal narrative and the feminist family romance German Women‘s Writing in the Twenty-First Century 37 53 Google Scholar

Keen, Suzanne (2007) Empathy and the Novel (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Empathy and the Novel Google Scholar

Köhler, Astrid (2013) ‘Große Form – kleine Form. Gegen den Strich der Familiensaga’, in Poetiken der Gegenwart. Deutschsprachige Romane nach 2000, ed. Silke Horstkotte and Leonhard Herrmann (Berlin and New York: de Gruyter), 229–243. Große Form – kleine Form. Gegen den Strich der Familiensaga Poetiken der Gegenwart. Deutschsprachige Romane nach 2000 229 243 Google Scholar

Krüger-Fürhoff, Irmela Marei (2015) ‘Narrating the limits of narration: Alzheimer’s disease in contemporary literary texts’, in Popularizing Dementia: Public Expressions and Representations of Forgetfulness, ed. Aagje Swinnen and Mark Schweda (Bielefeld: Transcript), 89–108. Narrating the limits of narration: Alzheimer’s disease in contemporary literary texts Popularizing Dementia: Public Expressions and Representations of Forgetfulness 89 108 Google Scholar

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Moran, Joe (2001) ‘Aging and identity in dementia narratives’, Cultural Values 5: 245–260. Aging and identity in dementia narratives Cultural Values 5 245 260 Google Scholar

National Institute on Ageing (2011) ‘Alzheimer’s disease genetics fact sheet’, National Institutes of Health Publication no. 11-6424. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers-disease-genetics-fact-sheet (accessed 31 August 2017). Google Scholar

Shafi, Monika (2012) Housebound: Selfhood and Domestic Space in Contemporary German Fiction, Studies in German Literature Linguistics and Culture Vol. 121 (Rochester, NY: Camden House). Housebound: Selfhood and Domestic Space in Contemporary German Fiction Google Scholar

Shriver, Maria, and the Alzheimer’s Association (2010) Alzheimer’s in America: The Shriver Report on Women and Alzheimer’s (New York: Simon & Schuster). Alzheimer’s in America: The Shriver Report on Women and Alzheimer’s Google Scholar

Stone, Anne Margaret, and Christina L. Jones (2009) ‘Sources of uncertainty: Experiences of Alzheimer’s disease’, Issues in Mental Health Nursing 30: 677–686. Sources of uncertainty: Experiences of Alzheimer’s disease Issues in Mental Health Nursing 30 677 686 Google Scholar

Swinnen, Aagje, and Mark Schweda (eds) (2015) Popularizing Dementia: Public Expressions and Representations of Forgetfulness. Ageing Studies Vol. VI (Bielefeld: Transcript). Popularizing Dementia: Public Expressions and Representations of Forgetfulness Google Scholar

Taberner, Stuart (2013) Aging and Old-Age Style in Günter Grass, Ruth Klüger, Christa Wolf, and Martin Walser: The Mannerism of a Late Period (Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer). Aging and Old-Age Style in Günter Grass, Ruth Klüger, Christa Wolf, and Martin Walser: The Mannerism of a Late Period Google Scholar

Vedder, Ulrike (2012) ‘Erzählen vom Zerfall. Demenz und Alzheimer in der Gegenwartsliteratur’, Zeitschrift für Germanistik 22: 274–289. Erzählen vom Zerfall. Demenz und Alzheimer in der Gegenwartsliteratur Zeitschrift für Germanistik 22 274 289 Google Scholar

World Health Organization (2017) Dementia: Fact Sheet No. 362. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs362/en/ (accessed 31 August 2017). Google Scholar

World Health Organization and Alzheimer’s Disease International (2012) Dementia: A Public Health Priority (Geneva: World Health Organization). http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/75263/1/9789241564458_eng.pdf?ua=1 (accessed 31 August 2017). Google Scholar

Zimmermann, Martina (2010) ‘Deliver us from evil: Carer burden in Alzheimer’s disease’, Medical Humanities 36: 101–107. Deliver us from evil: Carer burden in Alzheimer’s disease Medical Humanities 36 101 107 Google Scholar

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Author details

Heffernan, Valerie