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Literature / Nesthäkchen

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Nesthäkchen is a series of ten novels written by Else Ury (1877-1943) between 1913 and 1925.

The word is a German idiom referring to the youngest child in a family, literally a bird still attached to its nest while the others fly away. It's also the pet name of the series' heroine, Annemarie Braun, third child of a wealthy physician living in early 20th-century Berlin. The novels chronicle her life from childhood to old age, requiring the author to project her narrative about 50 years into the future. This is very much Harsher in Hindsight for modern readers, especially in the later books, where Ury looks forward to an era of prosperity and peace after the Great Depression, given that Ury was Jewish and died in Auschwitz. On a personal level, however, the characters are quite endearing, and the moral message is often Fair for Its Day.

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The volumes include:

  1. Nesthäkchen und ihre Puppen
  2. Nesthäkchens erstes Schuljahr
  3. Nesthäkchen im Kinderheim
  4. Nesthäkchen und der Weltkrieg (the only volume translated into English, as Nesthäkchen and the World War)
  5. Nesthäkchens Backfischzeit
  6. Nesthäkchen fliegt aus dem Nest
  7. Nesthäkchen und ihre Küken
  8. Nesthäkchens Jüngste
  9. Nesthäkchen und ihre Enkel
  10. Nesthäkchen im weißen Haar

This series contains the following tropes:

  • Aesop Amnesia: As in real life, it takes rather a long time for charming but scatterbrained Annemarie to learn responsibility.
  • Alpha Bitch: Anita is this straight-up, excluding a classmate from the limo ride home just for having one-eighth black ancestry.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Annemarie to Rudolf on top of the Ulm cathedral tower; Ursel to Milton in the form of a song at her first concert.
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  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Annemarie in school, contrasted with her less clever, but hardworking friend Margot. Many of her descendants take after her.
  • Career Versus Man: All three generations of heroines wrestle with this problem. Each one chooses the man. (Though, to be fair, a girl who lets eggs boil for half an hour really isn't cut out to be a doctor.)
  • Comforting the Widow: A genderflipped version with the widowed Hans Braun and his Unlucky Childhood Friend Margot, whom he hires as a nanny for his sons and ends up marrying.
  • Determinator: Stubbornness runs in the family.
  • Double In-Law Marriage: Annemarie and her brother Hans fall in love and get married, respectively, with Rudolf Hartenstein and his sister Ola (who dies between novels).
  • Everything Sounds Sexier in French: Or Portuguese. See Latin Lover below.
    • Also, oddly enough, Else Ury just might be the only writer in the world who can make a Swabian dialect sexy. "Gelt, Herzle, hast mich auch a bißle gern?"
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  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Three generations of them - Klaus and Hans; Ursel and Vronli; Anita and Marietta. Ilse and Marlene are the cousin equivalent.
  • Funetik Aksent: Vera (Polish); the Tavares family (Portuguese); various German Dialects from every corner of the country, from Plattdeutsch to Bavarian.
  • Germanic Depressives: Though at this point in history, the national German stereotype was more generally "emotional" than "depressive". Here portrayed as a positive trait.
  • Germanic Efficiency: Again positive, as opposed to what Ury saw as the decadence of Brazilian high society.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Rudolf, though he starts out as The Stoic, gradually grows into this as he gets older.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Annemarie, as well as several of her descendants.
  • Happily Married: Almost everyone, sooner or later.
  • Hospital Hottie: The young Dr. Rudolf Hartenstein and, during the time she works with him as an intern, Annemarie herself.
  • Kindly Housekeeper: Hanne, a brusque and old-fashioned woman with a thick Berlin dialect (think London Cockney, only German) who refers to Annemarie as "her child".
    • Unfortunately, somewhat subverted by the way she turns into a Racist Grandma around the Tavares siblings, making several comments about "blacks" that had to be painstakingly written out of later editions.
  • Kissing Cousins: Marietta Tavares marries Horst Braun, her first cousin once removed.
  • Latin Lover: Milton Tavares, heir to a Brazilian coffee plantation, is a charming young man with beautiful black eyes who passionately courts Annemarie's daughter Ursel.
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch: As a schoolgirl during World War I, Annemarie leads her class in tormenting Vera, a Polish girl whom she sees as a member of an enemy nation. When Vera's father dies, however (on the German side), Annemarie regrets her behavior and reaches out to Vera as a friend.
  • Love at First Note: Milton and Ursel, the first time she listens to him play the violin.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Subverted, as the veto only exists in Annemarie's mind. She takes her promise to her father (never to marry so she can take over his medical practice) so seriously that it causes her to outright reject Rudolf. Dr. Braun is just as happy working with a son-in-law as with a daughter.
  • Snow Means Love: Ursel and Milton marry at Christmastime, an especially poignant scene since it is the last snowfall Ursel will experience for decades.
  • Spicy Latina: Anita Tavares, in sharp contrast to her quiet twin Marietta.
  • Spoiled Sweet: Annemarie, her youngest daughter Ursel, and finally her granddaughter Marietta as well, all need to learn how to let their essential good nature overcome the shallowness of their upbringing.
  • This Is My Name on Foreign: The Brazilian grandchildren all have two versions of their names, the German one being their pet name: Anita/"Annele", Marietta/"Mariele", Juan/"Hansi".
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: Annemarie's grandmother makes a point of teaching her to knit.
  • Umbrella of Togetherness: Annemarie accepts Rudolf's second marriage proposal in a rainstorm; Ursel and Milton reach First-Name Basis under an umbrella in the snow.
  • Uncle Tomfoolery: Anita and Marietta's servant boy, Homer, is rather too often compared to their pet monkey, Jimmy.
  • Working with the Ex: Annemarie and Rudolf share one painfully awkward year as colleagues after her first rejection of his proposal. It takes a thunderstorm to bring them back together.

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