Silvia Tschui

German, Rowohlt, Hamburg, 2021

“And as the train pulls out, their mother stands there waving with both hands, a handkerchief in one, but Nis seems to have sat down. In any case, he doesn’t even look out of the window, and their mother waves and waves and Karl stands next to her, and only once the train has nearly left the station does a head pop out of a window, which could be Nis, but you can’t quite tell at that distance.
His mother’s hands sink. Karl tries to hold one of them but now she’s using them to wipe her eyes, then she sticks them in her coat pocket.
Karl wants help his mother now, now Nis is gone. She’ll soon see how much laundry he can carry down to the mangle room in one go. And he’s been practicing tying his laces. They no longer get tangled up. His mother hasn’t noticed yet.”

In Wod Silvia Tschui tells the story of a German-Swiss family and follows the intertwined paths of different family members from the period of the World Wars up to the present. The different episodes are skillfully interwoven and composed to a family saga that shows a multi-layered image of a family heavily marked by the experience of two wars.

It is an unremarkable incident with potatoes that triggers a severe commotion between the two brothers Nis and Karl at the 75th birthday party of their older sister Lili. Thereupon, Charlotte, Lili’s granddaughter and the narrator of the novel, starts to investigate her own story in order to explain the ‘potato incident’ and to find out where she comes from. In fact, the novel starts with her saying to her son: “Well then, you are old enough to understand this”. 

Charlotte’s narration is driven by her urge to find out where she comes from, to understand what has made her and her family members the way they are. The plot spans around more than five decades. All family members are in some way or the other affected by the war. While Lili emigrates as a newlywed wife from Nazi Germany to Switzerland and is confronted with racism and rejection in her Swiss husband ’s home village in Central Switzerland, her brothers Nis and Karl have to flee with their mentally ill mother from the Nazis.

They all go separate ways and grow apart, but all of them, and also their offspring, have the same troubled lives, suffering from absent parents, have to deal with unfulfilled expectations, mental problems and unrequited love. Tschui shows the attempt of her characters to unavailingly prevent their children from perpetuating their mistakes and shows how people are affected over generations by the trauma of war.

The narration follows different versions of lives over four generations that all root in a common war experience. By doing so the novel touches upon many different aspects of the Swiss and German history throughout the 20th century. The stories of the different characters are told in short episodes, switching freely between different places and times. Often one episode ends abruptly and is taken over – sometimes in the middle of the sentence – by another. The brilliantly structured novel allows the author to always pull the different strands together, however complexly interwoven their different ends, rendering this novel a dense and at the same time abundant work of art.

Text by Martina Keller

Der Wod
Rowohlt, Hamburg
Translation rights
Publication date
April 2021


Silvia Tschui

Silvia Tschui was born in Zurich in 1974, studied German and graphic design and completed the literary writing course in Biel. She has done all the clichéd jobs for aspiring authors, apart from washing corpses. Since then, she has worked as an animated film director, teacher and journalist for various media. Her first novel Jakobs Ross was an award-winning bestseller in Switzerland, was brought to the stage and is currently being made into a film.

Photo: ©Ringier/Jessica Keller