Reviewed by Anouschka van Leeuwen
It took me a while to start writing this review after I had finished Munich Airport. That is because the book’s heavy subject and its eerie atmosphere needed some time to sink in.
The book starts when the main male character (whose name is never disclosed), his father, and an official from the American embassy are waiting at Munich Airport to board their plane. We soon discover the object of their travels: they have come to Berlin to collect the body of the main character’s sister Miriam, who died of starvation, apparently of her free will.
From that point on, the story never moves forward, only backwards. The book mostly consists of memories of the main character’s youth and of the three weeks leading up to the present, when he and his father stayed in Berlin waiting for Miriam’s body to be released by the authorities. By spending time in Berlin, where Miriam lived the last years of her life, her brother tries to find out what led to her illness and ultimately her death. He speaks to the people that knew her, spends time among her stuff, and joins his father for a tour of the vicinity. It soon becomes apparent that there is much left unsaid between not only the two of them but also between them and Miriam. These issues are dealt with in a serious manner, although the book also contains some humorous, almost cynical dialogues between father and son.
I found that the style and structure of the book suited the overall themes very well. In between tales of the past, the reader is taken back to the present at the airport, thereby maintaining the sense of waiting, of urgency, of impending bad luck. Also, the fact that Miriam died of starvation leads the male character to obsessively focus on his own eating pattern. Indeed, when you start paying attention to it there is an awful lot of eating and drinking in the book. I thought that this focus on food conveyed the overall ‘hunger’ of the characters to obtain love and happiness without being too obvious about it.
The author/main character describes Munich Airport as ‘blue’, in a quite literal sense that the interior and the lighting give off a blue hue. The same characterization can be used in a metaphorical sense for the feeling that is generated by the book as a whole. The story is a raw and compelling report of troublesome family ties, complicated relationships, and getting to grips with feelings of guilt. It left me speechless for a while – but I’m sure that in due course, I will look at some of Greg Baxter’s other work.
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