Monika Helfer: The endless shadow of your own history


Monika Helfer verarbeitet ihre Kindheit im neuen Roman „Vati“

© imago/Rudolf Gigler

By Markus Schramek

Bregenz, Innsbruck – Monika Helfer achieved a bestseller last year with the biographical novel “Die Bagage”: more than 100,000 books sold. ©

 The  Vorarlberg author bravely faced her own painful family chronicle. That is probably the reason for the great response: Many of us readers carry around a familiar package like helpers without ever getting rid of it.

In “Die Bagage” the author describes the hostile reality of her maternal grandparents on a “Gstättn” far back in the valley, impoverished and despised by the local residents.

Continued in the family saga

Today, Monday, part 2 of this fact-based family saga will be published: “Vati” is the portrait of Helfer’s father Josef – or at least the attempt to understand him posthumously.

Because Josef keeps his thoughts for himself and his children at a distance throughout his life. He speaks so little that it is noticeable if he goes back further. ©

 The  marriage proposal is therefore not proposed by him, but by his future wife. He prefers to read across entire libraries. This passion lives on in his children.

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As a result, we learn little personal information about Helfer’s father, who comes back from Russia disabled with half a leg less. Monika Helfer grows up with her three siblings in a rest home for war victims at 1200 meters above sea level above Bludenz. Her father Josef is the home manager there. He and his wife Grete, Monika Helfer’s mother, had met in the hospital.

Difficult relationship with father

It is bitterly ironic that Grete’s husband is called Josef of all people: Grete’s father was also called Josef. He didn’t exchange a word with Grete, because he was firmly convinced that Grete was a cuckoo egg that his wife, Monika Helfer’s grandmother, had given him.

So both parents have had a hard time with their own childhood. Josef grew up as an unmarried child on a farm, Grete was marginalized by his father. Really not good conditions for your own family life to function better. Josef Helfer adores his wife, but the children are often left to their own devices.

And the next generation of helpers is expected of a lot from life. Josef, really obsessed with books, wants to prevent the rest home library from being sold off. He hides the valuable printed matter which, however, does not belong to him. For fear of being held accountable, his fuses blow: he poisons himself – and barely survives after a long stay in the hospital.

Tragedy follows a stroke of fate. Monika Helfer’s mother dies of cancer, the children come to live with relatives, and Josef gets into the next crisis. He masters this with the help of his later second wife. And when the “dad” dies at 67, that too happens under dramatic circumstances. His beloved books are his undoing.

Read on seamlessly

Anyone who knows “Die Bagage” will continue reading “Vati” like seamlessly. From the point of view of the child she was then, Monika Helfer describes the monstrous, the absurd and the deeply sad. It is the story of growing up in the country, initially in material need, but the emotional poverty of adults weighs much more heavily. Life could be idyllic like in distant Bullerbü. But unlike Astrid Lindgren, Helfer’s idyll only lasts for moments.

And the family history offers material for more. Next year Monika Helfer, 73, wants to complete a trilogy: with “Löwenherz”, a book about her brother Richard, who committed suicide at the age of 30.

Biographical novel Monika Helfer: Dad. Hanser, 176 S., 20,60 Euro.

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Monika Helfer endless shadow history


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