With so much noise in the media about the ‘truthiness’ of the memoir genre, it is more than a little refreshing to encounter Eva’s Threepenny Theatre. This blend if memoir, fiction, monologue, and poetic musing deliberately blurs genre in order to acknowledge both the slipperiness and the tremendous power of ‘truth’.
Purportedly about the author’s great aunt Eva – who performed in Brecht’s first workshop version of The Threepenny Opera in Breslau, Germany, in 1928 – this exploration of personal and political history quickly becomes (for both the writer and the reader) much more than a remembrance of a piece of renowned theatre.
Basing his re-creation on a series of recorded interviews with his aunt and his father, Steinmetz alternates between his own voice, the first-person voices of his aunt and father, and an imagined third-person voice (also of his aunt). Far from being jarring, the various points of view are pleasingly complimentary.
Eva’s ‘transcribed’ voice is often eloquent and funny, and it is also shot through with gorgeous turns of phrase that capture pivotal moments. Here, a young Eva listens for evidence of her ailing mother’s survival through the night: ‘I lay like a toad under the moon, my forehead glistening. I waited. I never slept until she produced her cough, a concussion through the walls.’
Similarly, Steinmetz’s versions of certain historical events (if they can be referred as such – the book seems to coax us to surrender notions of complete accuracy), despite their narrative distance, resonate with raw honesty, compassion, and the feel of family ties.
The result is that, although the reminiscences Eva shares are jumbled and episodic, Steinmetz’s method of ordering and interpreting these way stations of memory feels evocative, and – dare I say it? – true.
- Quill & Quire (November 2008) by Heather Birrell