A father-son relationship in crisis
What would you do if your son hardly ever left his room? In Nassir Djafari’s debut novel ”Eine Woche, ein Leben”, Timm’s father Hamid is almost out of ideas. But by approaching his son cautiously, he manages to open the lines of communication again. Then the father proposes a trip to Peru. It becomes clear that not only the son, but also the father has lost his way in life.
The trip to Peru brings about a fundamental shift in their relationship: instead of being separated by a closed door, father and son now share hotel rooms. An unexpected event causes their roles to reverse, and the son, who was a mystery at the beginning of the novel, proves himself in an impressive way. During their short time abroad, a life comes to light that was only dimly hinted at before: the father has a past in Peru.
Whereas the first part of the novel takes place in Frankfurt on the Main, Germany, and is told from Hamid’s perspective, we see Peru through Timm’s eyes in the second: the naive point of view of a young man who knows little of Peru is mixed here and there with information and socially critical analyses provided by his father and his father’s friends. Racism, corruption and poverty are just a few of the topics that are touched on. But Peru’s positive aspects are described as well. In general, a believable portrait emerges. For his part, Timm becomes increasingly critical of his surroundings.
The conflict between father and son is due in part to the fact that the father has certain expectations regarding the son’s achievements and life choices, which he is not always able or willing to fulfil. While the son yearns for his father’s approval, he has other concerns as well. The pair’s Iranian roots also play a role in everything. The novel doesn’t lecture readers; it’s not pretending to be an instruction manual for a successful father-son relationship. Instead, it sensitively portrays a caring but strict and career-oriented father and his son, both of whom are plausible figures with strengths and weaknesses, and tells their shared story.
Whereas a few storylines and events from the first part seem to get lost or remain unresolved until the end, the second half more than makes up for it. Both are rapidly narrated in short chapters, which maintains suspense throughout. The story makes twists and turns until the end and concludes unexpectedly and emotionally moving.
Nassir Djafari has written a multi-faceted, readable novel that incorporates major themes like family background, identity and belonging alongside the father-son relationship. It remains up to the reader to determine to what extent father and son really see and understand each other, and whether they have grown closer again by the end.
Djafari, N., 2020: Eine Woche, ein Leben. Bremen, Sujet Verlag (in German only).
Maren van Treel is social-media editor at D+C/E+Z.