A moving and unsettling exploration of a young man’s formative years in a country still struggling with its past
As a Jew in postwar Germany, Yascha Mounk felt like a foreigner in his own country. When he mentioned that he is Jewish, some made anti-Semitic jokes or talked about the superiority of the Aryan race. Others, sincerely hoping to atone for the country’s past, fawned over him with a forced friendliness he found just as alienating.
Vivid and fascinating, Stranger in My Own Country traces the contours of Jewish life in a country still struggling with the legacy of the Third Reich and portrays those who, inevitably, continue to live in its shadow. Marshaling an extraordinary range of material into a lively narrative, Mounk surveys his countrymen’s responses to “the Jewish question.” Examining history, the story of his family, and his own childhood, he shows that anti-Semitism and far-right extremism have long coexisted with self-conscious philo-Semitism in postwar Germany.
But of late a new kind of resentment against Jews has come out in the open. Unnoticed by much of the outside world, the desire for a “finish line” that would spell a definitive end to the country’s obsession with the past is feeding an emphasis on German victimhood. Mounk shows how, from the government’s pursuit of a less “apologetic” foreign policy to the way the country’s idea of the Volk makes life difficult for its immigrant communities, a troubled nationalism is shaping Germany’s future.
Praise for Stranger in My Own Country
“[Mounk's] book combines anecdote and analysis in a witty and engaging manner that belies his deeply serious purpose.” —Daniel Johnson, The Wall Street Journal
“Informative and entertaining . . . What is it like to be a Jew in Germany in the postwar era? What would lead even a handful of Jews to choose to make their lives in the country that was responsible for the Holocaust? And how did the descendants of the perpetrators treat the descendants of the victims? These are the questions at the heart of Mounk’s book, which starts out as a memoir but evolves into something more like a history and a polemic. Accessibly written and full of humor, Stranger in My Own Country uses Mounk’s own experiences to shed light on postwar German history and current German politics.” —Adam Kirsch, Tablet
“How do things stand with German Jews [today]? In Stranger in My Own Country, Yascha Mounk gives an artful and thoughtful answer . . . Mounk’s personal anecdotes do a lot to make his mindset understandable, but he also deals with the big picture. The best feature of his fine book is how he interweaves macro and micro levels of discussion. He does this, moreover, in graceful prose, which helps to showcase his talent for disentangling paradoxes in original ways.” —Paul Reitter, Bookforum
“[Mounk] is a gifted raconteur and aphorist, and if you want to learn about Germany's preverse, absurd love for its Jews—the flip side, or the bastard child, of its historical anti-Semitism—this book is a fine place to start . . . Mr. Mounk skillfully puts Germans and Jews on his analyst's couch . . . There is an adage, usually attributed to an Israeli psychoanalyst, that the Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz. If you want to understand how that can be, read this book.” —Mark Oppenheimer, The New York Times
“Mounk’s account, one of the first on this subject addressed to a general English-speaking readership, is an intriguing and sometimes disturbing glimpse into an aspect of Jewish life of which most American Jews may not be aware.” —Martin Green, Jewish Book Council
“[A] rich and remarkable memoir . . . Mounk’s engaging and provocative book amounts to a kind of intellectual and emotional self-portrait of the author himself and, at the same time, a historical and cultural profile of post-war Germany.” —Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal
“In Stranger in My Own Country, Yascha Mounk compellingly illustrates how 'the Jewish question' continues to shape public consciousness and everyday interactions in modern Germany, not least among Gentiles afflicted with the 'philo-Semitism of good intentions.' Deftly interweaving political history and personal experience, Mounk argues convincingly that excessive guilt can be no less toxic than disavowal when it come to reckoning honestly with the past. His book offers no easy answers to those seeking liberation from the burdens of history, and indeed shows how dangerous and misguided this impulse can be.” —Eyal Press, author of Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times
“Clear, unpretentious, wide-ranging, and touching, Stranger in My Own Country is a story about the patience and the courage necessary for reconciliation. As perspicacious in its argument as it is moving in its anecdote, it's the one book that ought to be read by everybody who suspects there's nothing left to say about the Jews and the Germans. It marks the debut of a writer we'll be likely—and lucky—to count among the most useful of our public intellectuals.” — Gideon Lewis-Kraus, author of A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and Hopeful
“A solid combination of moving personal saga and thought-provoking research.” —Kirkus