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Nowhere in Africa – Stefanie Zweig

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  • Pages: 6
  • Word count: 1412
  • Category: Africa

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Nowhere in Africa (German: Nirgendwo in Afrika) is an epic autobiographical novel written by Stefanie Zweig based on her family’s self-exile during WWII. The story entails the involuntary separation of a Jewish family from their beloved home in Germany to unknown territory in Kenya during World War II to escape the reign of the bias Nazis.

     The gripping story is respectively told trough the eyes of the Redlich family.  The family consists of Walter Redlich, a former attorney, husband to his wife Jettel and father to Regina, a talented, intellectual and receptive child.  Jettel Redlich is portrayed to the reader as a beautiful and poignant character who fits the stereotype of a pampered Jewish woman.  This autobiographical account not only depicts the hardship and suffering that the family as an entity experience when forced into exile, but also highlight what the effects of the experience had on the individualistic characters.


     Walter a professional, a judge and a German citizen, perceived what lay in store for the Jewish citizens of Germany long before his extended family could see that Adolph Hitler would turn on his own. Walter took the conscious decision to leave Germany and take his family to Africa in 1938. While Walter was residing in Africa he sent word to the Redlich’s lavish home in Breslau, urging them to join him where he was already based in Kenya. Jettel’s aged father-in-law, Max and sister, Kaethe unfortunately had to stay behind.

     The Redlich family may have been lucky enough to escape the terrorism of the Nazi regime but in return they had to face and endure major losses and hardships that were a direct result of the move to Africa.  Not only did they have to leave their beloved homeland, but a once proud family also had to sacrifice social status and an understandable language for a foreign land. As the reader progress it becomes evident that the crosscut storyline between Germany and Africa does not lay as much emphasis on the Jewish persecution but more about a family torn between their pampered roots and a young girl adapting to life in a foreign land.


     At first, Jettel goes into a culture shock and is in total denial as to just how precarious the situation in Germany really is.  She experiences the situation totally different than her husband and child does.  Walter is a realist and a survivor; he knows that the family cannot survive while Hitler is in power nevertheless Jettel stays in denial.

     Though the upper-class Redlich’s faces many trials and tribulations and is branded as outsiders in three ways by the locals; the fact that they were white, German and Jewish did not help,  they further had to endure and survive a draught, locust attacks, and WWII.

     Zweig’s alter ego, Regina is the strongest voice of all the characters and therefore the reader perceive her experience during the involuntary separations at the beginning and the end of the story more ardently.  This is primarily due to Regina’s relationship with Owuor their African “houseboy” or cook and her own secret fairy that guides and accompanies her through several journeys.  Although she is a child Regina is a very strong protagonist and becomes the voice of reason for the entire family.

For Jettel the experience of their departure from her pampered and spoiled life is a terrible and horrific episode. The character’s view of herself however changes during the course of the novel from that of a wealthy and spoilt woman to a new and transformed person.  While Jettel is unpacking her glassware and crockery for what she thinks will only be a short stay she is screening her resistance and insurgency towards her stay in Africa which leads to tension between her and Walter.

     The anxiety is increased by the attitudes from the English settlers towards the newcomers.  She starts to resent Walter even further for forcing her to separate from her family.  This increases when war is officially declared and they are rounded up by the British soldiers as alien enemies.  Despite this Jettel becomes involved in an illicit affair with a German Speaking British soldier and manages to get Walter a post of managing a farm.

     Jettel reside in a state of decadence and self-pity and sees herself in a godforsaken place while her husband Walter, although a hard worker but not the best farmer shows no or little sympathy towards her.  Jettel, despite being a victim of prejudice and bigotry, still feels superior to the Masai’s and looks down upon them, believing that they are inferior to her.  From the start Jettel has a bumpy relationship with the Cook, Owuor a proud member of the Masai tribe.  Jettel sees and treats him as a servant but Owuor never compromises his customs and remains proud.  When she asks him to dig a well he replies: “I’m a cook, cooks don’t dig in the ground” and for that matter “men don’t carry water”.  At long last Jettel makes a believable transformation from fussy bourgeois housewife to independent farm manager.


   Regina on the other hand is not a fully developed character but a more conventional one.  From the start she provides a great deal of the emotional depth needed to complete the story.   Even though the narrative tends to focus on the domestic melodrama about the couple’s disorderly marriage, it is restored by Regina, who bravely encounters each life-altering change with open arms.

     Regina portrays the characteristics of a strong and intelligent child, blessed with several gifts.  There is however an omniscient presence of the “smart poor child” Regina somehow magically detect everyone’s feelings, because she “knows without words.” Her entrée into Africa has somehow endowed her with this far-fetched insight.  It is however ironic that the writer uses Regina as the main narrator when Jettel is the character most focused upon and whose transformation is exposed passionately and treated unsentimentally with her sexual surrender to the British officer.

     Like Regina the reader is swept off to an environment far from the darkness and claustrophobic strife torn Europe to an astonishing and encapsulated experience in Nairobi. The household is made complete by a Kenyan named Owuor, who had saved Walter’s life during a bout with malaria.  He helps them in enumerable ways and teaches them the language and customs of his people.

     Regina immediately bonds with Owuor and quickly become accustomed to her new life, she also befriends the native children, learns their language, and prefers Kenya over Germany as her country of choice.  While residing on the farm Regina is protected from the horrors of anti-Semitism and is only exposed to this harsh reality when she leaves for boarding school.


     Walter is the only adult who shows signs of responsibility and when he asks Jettel to please bring a refrigerator which is desperately needed in the hot African environment.  Jettel, representing the stereotypical spoiled and pampered woman brings a very unnecessary bal-gown instead.

     After the war ends, Walter is offered a job as a judge in Frankfurt and again faces the challenge of exposing his family to an involuntary disconnection from a now familiar terrain.  The challenge of leaving especially for Regina who has totally adapted to Kenyan life causes strife amongst the family members. As time passes even Jettel falls in love with the beauty and complexity that the land has to offer, but Walter only sees the land as a refugee haven and his attention is focused on returning to Europe, Jettel refuses to go with him, stating that the farm needs her.

     Eventually Jettel realizes what her fate would have been had Walter not foreseen the future.  Consequently when the war is over she refuses to have anything to do with post-war Germany, Walter however zealously wishes to return and help build a new Germany, and this seems to be the ultimate test of their love.  The relationship rekindles itself and Jettel allows Walter to decide whether or not they should leave Kenya and return to Germany, the ultimate surrender for Jettel.


Michelle Cozzens:      www.michelecozzens.com

Robert Egbert:                        Robert Egberts Movie yearbook 2004 –

Nowhere in Africa:    Stefanie Zweig-

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