Reviews 2017

Die Bilderfalle: Kanada in der deutschsprachigen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur: Produktion und Rezeption [The Imagetrap: Canada in German-language Children’s and Young Adult Literature]

Die Bilderfalle: Kanada in der deutschsprachigen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur: Produktion und Rezeption [The Imagetrap: Canada in German-language Children’s and Young Adult Literature]. Martina Seifert. Augsburg: Wißner Verlag, 2016. 629 pages. £43.13 (paperback).

The urge to escape from reality and civilisation and the eagerness to retreat into a dream world are sentiments that have been commonly experienced in Europe throughout many ages, whereas in the case of Germany they became particularly widespread after the nineteenth-century industrial revolution. According to Martina Seifert, the trend implies the search for "anti-modern proposals of the meaning of life" (114)1. For Seifert, such proposals are evident in the hetero-images of Canada in German-language children’s and youth literature. In her study Die Bilderfalle: Kanada in der deutschsprachigen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur: Produktion und Rezeption [The Imagetrap: Canada in German-language Children’s and Youth Literature], Seifert draws upon an impressive corpus of 1,000 items, mostly twentieth-century literary works in German, to examine these proposals.

This book, based on her 2016 PhD thesis, is published as part of the Beiträge zur Kanadistik. Band 19. Schriftenreihe der Gesellschaft für Kanada-Studie series and it is a significant contribution to imagological studies of children’s and youth literature. Moreover, in her book, Seifert underlines the significance of children’s and youth literature for transmitting cultural knowledge.

The book is composed of two main parts and an epilogue. In the first part, "Heteroimages: Der Imagotyp in der deutschen und jugendliterarischen Produktion" ["Hetero-images: Image-type in German youth literature products"], Seifert analyses texts set in Canada and written by such German-language authors as Armin Otto Huber, Emil Droonberg, A. E. Johann, and Max Otto, who all largely contributed to reinforcing the image-type. However, the author does not ignore many modern authors and refers, for example, to Wolfgang Bittner and Werner J. Egli. One should remember that the image of a country is not created by one isolated nation only, which Seifert took into account by including Canada-themed literary texts from other countries in her analysis.

The author specifies what images of Canada have been shown to children and youth in the German-speaking area since the early twentieth century up until today. She examines the changes that have taken place in the German hetero-images of Canada over the years, looking for the origin of its image-type. Its foundation is, to a large extent, the classic adventure fiction of the nineteenth century (e.g., adventure novels by James Fenimore Cooper). The image of Canada, originally closely related to that of America, became independent in the 1920s, as Canada took over the role of the USA as the land of adventure and freedom: for Germans, Canada seems to be "the other America" (59), constituting an idealised dream place completely different to Germany. Since the American wilderness seemed to be endangered by civilisation, the Canadian wilderness took its place, thereby relocating the setting of literary works further north.

The historical periods analysed in the book – from the turn of the twentieth century, through the Nazi period, post-World War II (with a discernible division into West German and East German literature), to novels written after the year 2000 – all demonstrate the immutability of image-type structures. Using examples from specific texts, the author points out specific (hetero-)images that are the components of the separate German image-type of "Canada." Canada is seen as a vast, uninhabited and mysterious land overgrown with forests and virgin nature. The country, as described by the authors of the texts included in the corpus, is far from the civilised world and its culture. "Canada’s soul" (72) is essentially wilderness, where only strong and tough male protagonists thrive, as this world is unfit for women. The texts, mostly written by men for men, depict Canada as the "enclave of inviolable manhood" (79); a man’s character is forged in the extreme local climate. It is a wild northern land – a refuge from civilisation and capitalism. It is an image-type land of bears, wolves, moose, and beavers. It is where the Indians, enemies of culture and civilisation, may live in peace. The entire spectrum of images demonstrates their interconnection and interdependence, as well as the allochronistic depiction of Canada. What matters is searching for what sets it apart from developed countries and civilisation and hence "the reality exerts no impact on the survival of image-type rhetoric" (61). The author indicates the central motifs that emerged in each specific period. She concludes that while the images persisted, the interpretation and instrumentalisation of image-type changed depending on fluctuating political, social and mental structures (424).

Part two of the book, "Kulturtransfer: Rezeption kanadischer Autoimages" ["Cultural transfer: Reception of Canadian auto-images"], focuses on the historical background of translations of Canadian children’s and youth literature in German-speaking countries between 1899 and 2005. Seifert analyses the role played by German hetero-images in the selection, distribution, and reception of translated texts and discusses the impact of auto-images on the image-type. She lists authors and texts left untranslated or translated with much delay, with the interesting example of Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, because the text was translated into German in 1986, 78 years after the novel appeared in Canada (560-61). Seifert explains that until the early 1980s only texts compatible with the image-type structures were translated. As a result, German children and teenagers are familiar with Canada-themed images as presented in the works of Grey Owl, Farley Mowat, or James Houston. The images that were non-compliant with Germans’ hetero-images were excluded by publishers (431). Currently, the image of Canada in German-speaking countries is little affected by translated literary works, whereas Canada still meets the image-type expectations in German-language literature. Quite surprisingly, it is the image-type part that seems real, possible to experience, and still significant as the opposite of German realities.

To sum up, following Martina Seifert on her journey through image-type representations of Canada (which have not changed greatly over 100 years) is a worthwhile effort. The major advantage of Die Bilderfalle: Kanada in der deutschsprachigen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur: Produktion und Rezeption is that the author manages to maintain a clear structure over 600 pages. She is also able to explain theoretical matters in a very accessible way. Finally, the author manages to visualise the "imagetrap" included in the title. She shows how images that appear in the texts and that have accompanied the authors since childhood are copied and replicated.

Marcelina Szewczuk-Sadowska
Karkonosze College in Jelenia Góra, Poland


1 All translations from German are mine.