Last week we had a lively discussion in the comments about spiritual abuse, growing up in a sheltered environment, life as a PK, family patterns and the fact that maybe one or two iffy meals were eaten as people made time for reading. And a lot more! If you want to read the conversation or add to it, do! 🙂
This book does it all. I laugh out loud, I want to scream words of warning to Ingeborg or Robert, I relate to being an adult woman in a foreign land trying to make your way, marvel at the sentence construction and want so much for basically everyone in the book.
“Ingeborg drank it in eagerly. She was zealot to learn; resolute to be a helpmeet. Had not he delivered her from the immense suffocation of Redchester?” The joy Ingeborg tastes almost brings a flavor to my mouth as she revels in her freedom and the joys of housekeeping and cooking. This brought back memories from high school of what I thought I’d be like as an adult. I had this one green sweater I thought was exactly what a college student would wear. I’d picture myself walking across campus on my way to an enlightening conversation. It seems Ingeborg hadn’t had the luxury of picturing herself anywhere but serving her father. I imagine those early days were like heaven on earth to her.
How about you? What did you picture about your future?
“Oh?” said Ingeborg, surprised. “Have you got one?” For he somehow produced a completely motherless impression. I smiled!
When my sister got married it was the first time we met many of my brother-in-law’s family in person. Most of what we learned was innocuous, but there were one or two things we asked her, “Did you know that?” Um, no. She was young and I thought it wouldn’t really effect them. And we will never know everything, that’s Okay. I just laughed when the lightbulb went on for Ingeborg.
What did you think of Robert’s repeated calling his mother a “simple woman?” Why didn’t he tell his mother he’d gotten married? I know he’s self-absorbed and distracted by his scientific experiments, but please. He could have told her! I felt sorry for Ingeborg as she looked forward to her pastor wife duties and ways she could understand Robert’s work so that she could connect with him.
And then the whole nightmare with having her mother-in-law for tea! I went back and forth with being so annoyed with Robert. Why didn’t he talk with Ingeborg? But just this week I sat in a lecture about schools; it was given by an American to visiting Chinese scholars and he’d use words like “kindergarten” and everyone nodded assuming they had similar pictures in their heads. I kept interrupting and “translating” back and forth to each side — “When an American says X, they mean this.” “When a Chinese says X, they mean this other idea.”
Many light bulbs went on. But how did I become this kind of “translator?” More than twenty years of life and exposure and stumbling through my own experiences! Maybe Robert didn’t know how very different her ideas of what having tea meant. And then she figured it out. After having tea with his patron when Ingeborg thought she’s cracked the code, who else could relate to the conversation about beds? Ha! What are you talking about beds?! The phrase “If Ingeborg had known” could have been said about us all.
If you’re in a cross-cultural marriage (and to an extent any marriage is cross-cultural!), I love to hear about your experiences in learning new customs to better connect with your in-laws.
In the comments let’s talk about the assumptions Robert and Ingeborg make about children. She had just been “getting used to the happiness [she’d] got,” yet Robert wanted children so much and then was praised so highly by his parish when Ingeborg was pregnant.
“I’d like some chloroform,” said Ingeborg. “It is against nature,” said Herr Dremmel…”When it comes to the highest things,” said Herr Dremmel severely, “and this is the holiest, most exalted act a human being can perpetrate, all men are equally believers.”
“I expect they are,” said Ingeborg. “But the others — the ones who’re not men– they’d like some chloroform.”
I watch Ingeborg trying to navigate all that is thrown at you as a second culture woman and daughter-in-law and mother and I have more compassion for myself, for us. This is running long, but let’s also talk about her birth experience and how afterwards was nothing like Robert expected. Her abscess and post-pardum depression were painful to read.
So much here to think about and tease out with each other :), See you in the comments! And next week we’ll finish the book with Part 3.
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