By: Heidi Laird
Publisher: Fulton Books, Inc.
Publication Date: November 11, 2021
Reviewed by Diane Lunsford
Review Date: February 20, 2023
The Frankfurt Kitchen is a bittersweet collection of Heidi Laird’s childhood memories in a book of forty-one stories that recount her experiences of growing up in post-World War II West Germany.
Before comprehending the beautiful memories across the pages, it’s important to note the sentiment of writing this book Ms. Laird shares in the Acknowledgements: "...It took much longer than I ever thought it would, it left me alternately exhilarated and exhausted, and it showed me, as if I didn’t already know, how sharply childhood experiences sculpt our character, and how deeply they carve themselves into our souls..." In the very first chapter, Ms. Laird shares her recollection at the tender age of eight of standing in the pouring rain with her mother. They were standing alongside the on-ramp of the Autobahn between Heidelberg and Frankfurt and they were hitchhiking. The year was 1949 and Heidi and her mother, Vera Shaefer, were on one of their trips to visit Heidi’s father, Harry Saarbach. Vera strategically chose this miserable and quite rainy day in April to make the visit because (without a vehicle of their own), the competition among fellow hitchhikers would be minimal due to the lack of sunshine. As the U.S. Army Jeep pulls along the side of the road to pick them up. Heidi studies the driver and recalls, "...I sensed that the soldier had spontaneously acted in good faith on his impulse to get a woman and her child out of a punishing rainstorm, disregarding the fact that, as a member of the military force occupying the country of a former enemy, he had broken the unwritten but well-understood rule that transporting unauthorized German civilians in U.S. military vehicles was prohibited."
As Ms. Laird commits her recollections to paper, she supplements her work with a wealth of historical information. In the first chapter, she maps out the plan to rehabilitate and rejuvenate Germany post-war and what the U.S. involvement would entail. She provides a brief education on the Marshall Plan "...first rejected by U.S. Congress who wanted to see Germany plowed under and turned into an agrarian society, which would never again start a war. This was the vision of the secretary of the treasury, Henry Morgenthau. Advocates of the Marshall Plan countered that rebuilding the German industry and helping the Germans create a new version of their first, unsuccessful attempt at democracy would enable them to build a strong economy and produce a rich return on the U.S. investment. The goal of this gigantic project was to make the war zones livable again by removing the mountains of rubble and debris in the cities, finding and defusing the thousands of undetonated bombs and live ammunition that lay beneath the ruins and putting people to work under the direction of the U.S. Military government..."
In a see-saw fashion, Ms. Laird reflects on wartime memories as much as she addresses her life after war. There are many occasions that emote outright frustration on one hand as much as there is heartache for anyone (let alone a young child) to have to witness and endure such evil. It’s difficult to site one particular passage among the many poignant, but one that truly resonates with me is: "...As I write this seventy years later, in the year 2019, I recognize how distant this idealized vision of America has become, and I wonder if it will be possible to say seventy years from now that the principles and values of America’s founders have survived..."
Ms. Laird has done what a talented writer knows and is capable of doing. She set out on a journey to tell a story and make sure while telling the story, she kept her audience at the forefront with every passage she committed to paper by maintaining an engagement with them from the onset. As inconceivable as it is to truly understand the emotional scars and unseen wounds that may never heal completely, Ms. Laird commits her memories to words with a soft tone and without cynicism. Rather, there is a strong sentiment of sadness and melancholic idealism that we as humans carry inside of each of us. We lament on how things are and what they could be, but in the proverbial ‘end’ what changed? I applaud Ms. Laird for raising not only awareness for her personal experiences through and post war, but doing it in such a way that she tempers her pen throughout with a sublime tone of: ‘pay attention’ this affected me. I am grateful and honored to have read this book. It is one that sheds insurmountable enlightenment and at the same time, frightening familiarity toward today’s world climate.
Quill says: The Frankfurt Kitchen provides a fair amount of credibility to the nuance of history and its propensity to repeat itself.