Jurij Koch, The Cherry Tree. Translated by John. K. Cox. North Dakota Quarterly Supplement Series, Volume 2. 2022.
Set in the Sorbian-speaking region of the former East Germany, this unique and thought-provoking novella focuses on Ena, a young farm worker, who is torn between her family’s culture and the growing demands of modern society. She must navigate the conflicting demands and competing world views of her two lovers, Mathias (a Sorbian farmer) and Sieghart (a German engineer), even as she moves to Paris and then deals with the passing of her beloved grandfather. The story is tight and intense, with touches of magical realism as well as beautiful descriptions of nature. Koch’s pithy, accurate descriptions of life in Brandenburg and Saxony are animated by the author’s steadfast and heartening apprecia` tion of rural traditions, the visits of a pre-Christian goddess, and…a surprise ending.
Jurij Koch (b. 1936) is a Sorbian writer who lives in Cottbus, Germany. He has been publishing various types of fiction and essays since the early 1960s, and he is well known for his many children’s books. He also writes short stories, plays, and dramas, and several of his books have been filmed. Sorbian characters and themes figure prominently in his writing in both German and Sorbian. Koch’s environmental activism made him a critical voice in East Germany before 1989; he has been especially active in contesting the loss of vernacular architecture and, especially, rural vitality and diversity caused by the expanded strip-mining of coal in Saxony and Brandenburg. This is his first novel to appear in English.
John K. Cox is a professor of 20th-century East European history at North Dakota State University in Fargo (USA). He translates modern literature from several of the languages of Central Europe and the Balkan