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The German Crocodile




The German Crocodile

Ijoma Mangold

Translated By Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp

Hardback delicately finished in gold foil with coloured end papers | 198mm by 129mm | 322 pages

Ijoma Alexander Mangold is his full name; he has brown skin and dark curly hair. Today one of Germany’s best literary critics, Ijoma remembers his childhood, his teenage years and his early adulthood in this compelling coming-of-age memoir of growing up different in 1970s Heidelberg, in the USA as the German Wall fell, and as a young adult in the new Germany.

His own story is inextricably linked with that of his mother, a German from the eastern province of Silesia, forced to escape as a refugee in the expulsions from 1944, and to start afresh in utter poverty in West Germany. His Nigerian father came to Germany to train in paediatric surgery but returned before Ijoma was old enough to remember him. His reappearance on the scene 22 years later forces a crash collision with an unknown culture, one he grew up suspicious of, and a new complex family history to come to terms with.

Mangold explores many existential questions in this lively narrative; How does a boy cope with an absent father? What was it like to grow up ‘bi-racial’? Was he an opportunist, a master adaptor who had over- assimilated? What is the relationship between race and class? And what is more unusual in Germany: having brown skin or a passion for Thomas Mann and Richard Wagner? Ijoma shares his story with its dramatic twists and turns, not forgetting the surprises, he uncovers about himself along the way.

Praise for the book

“…. Written without anger or hectoring but with grace and humour, it is the true-life story of a gifted man who happens to be Nigerian-German growing up post-war in a conservative country which throws many challenges – and opportunities - in his path. It is that very German genre, the bildungsroman, both a moving personal history and an affectionate portrait of contemporary Germany. I loved it - and the style, autobiography told in the third person, enables the reader to be both insider and outsider, reflecting the experience of its remarkable author Ijoma Mangold.”

Rosie Goldsmith, Journalist and Director of the European Literature Network

“The German Crocodile is a delight to read. Not only because it is eloquently, thoughtfully and often funnily written, but also because it is honestly written. In an era where writings around race, identity and belonging are often visibly geared towards forwarding one ideological agenda or the other, The German Crocodile makes for refreshing reading by exploring these issues in a manner that does not appear calculated. Mangold's combination of thoughtfulness, wit, nuance and lack of calculation is a much needed one for our times.”

Dr Remi Adekoya, Author of Biracial Britain.

“This is about one man’s journey to his roots. It is also a book about memory: the limits and the unreliability of it. Things Mangold thought he knew to be irrefutable facts eventually turn out not to be so at all. Above all, this is a touching and beautiful exploration of what it means to both belong and not belong in spaces that claim you and those that you claim”

Chika Unigwe, Award winning Nigerian writer and Professor of creative writing at Georgia College and State University, Milledgeville, Georgia.

“A beautifully written, rueful account of growing up not Nigerian enough for his well-meaning German neighbours.”

Philip Hensher, The Spectator

“Much more than a personal story, this is a portrait of our society and epoch in miniature. (...) A mixture of reportage and Bildungsroman that simply had to be written.”

Kristina Maidt-Zinke, Süddeutsche Zeitung

“It is, among many other things, the most beautiful and moving ode to a mother that you can imagine.”

Jan Wiele, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

“The rise of the black Reich-Ranicki (...) A book that will make you laugh and cry (...) A must-read!”

Alexander von Schönburg, Bild

“Smart, reflective (…) You read this like you read literary fiction: gripped, at times emotional.”

Claudius Seidl, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung

About the author

IJOMA MANGOLD, born in Heidelberg in 1971, studied literature and philosophy in Munich and  Bologna. After working for the newspapers Berliner Zeitung and Süddeutsche Zeitung, he  moved to Germany’s weekly Die Zeit in 2009, where he was literary editor in chief from 2013  to 2018. He is now Die Zeit’s cultural-political correspondent and one of four literary critics  on the SWR TV show Lesenswert. Ijoma is regularly on the jury of major prizes for  contemporary German literature. A recipient of the Berlin Prize for Literary Criticism, he has  also held visiting professorships at the University of Göttingen, Germany and at the University  of Saint Louis, USA. Ijoma lives in Berlin.

© Christian Werner

About the translator

Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp is a literary translator working from German, Russian and Arabic into English. She was awarded an IBBY Honour List title for translation in 2022, and her work has been shortlisted for the Helen & Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize, the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize and the GLLI Translated YA Prize. Her translations include fiction and nonfiction from Germany, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, Russia, Switzerland and Syria.


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