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Novel set in HAMBURG, Germany (“the percussive music of the German language”)

20th August 2014

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook, novel set in Hamburg 1946.

IMG_2234A novel that evokes the period just after WW2 when Germany was starting to pick up the pieces, under the aegis of the allied powers. Specifically this book is seen through the lens of one English family, the Morgans. Colonel Lewis Morgan, Governor of Pinneberg, has been sent to oversee the simultaneous deconstruction of the German infrastructure, rendering it harmless as a nation, whilst working on ways of reconstructing the building blocks – both social and literal – of the city of Hamburg.

I imagine few readers, myself included, have given a lot of thought to the coming together of two nations, one in charge, one humiliated, and how that must have played out in day to day life for the individuals trying to get through a single day at a time. As the characters make their way through this this rubble strewn city, there are sightings of the Trümmerfrauen shifting wreckage and masonry, there are the feral children who have no family and are fending for themselves. And then there are the German elite who have to give up their homes and mansions to the incomers.

The book is based on the author’s own family experience. The author’s Grandfather, Walter Brook requisitioned a house in Hamburg and it was unique to share the house with the original German owners. It was not the done thing to fraternise with the locals. And this is a fictionalised account of how loss can bring people together.

The story is essentially one of people and relationships, as prejudices start to thaw. Rachael Morgan arrives to join her husband Lewis in the Villa Lubert on the Elbchaussee, where Stefan Lubert and his daughter Frieda still live. Although the Germans are prepared to give up their villa to the British incumbents, Lewis shows that he is more a man of enlightened attitudes – he makes the determined decision that they should stay. They are after all all human beings trying to make sense of a very difficult situation and come to terms with personal and national losses. The Morgans have lost their son Michael in an air raid. The Luberts have lost wife and mother Claudia. As they find an uneasy co-existence, life carries on beyond the perimeter of the property, and outside influences have repercussions on the delicate balance of interpersonal relationships, which the inhabitants of Villa Lubert have painstakingly created.


Waterstones Bookshop – Book of the Month 8/2014

The sometimes stiff dialogue perhaps reflects the era, where formality and etiquette are still the backbone of society, where intimacy between the sexes is carefully orchestrated and where decency can still percolate through self interest and survival, although sorely tested. The aftermath of war certainly rattles the foundations of the moral compass, exploring loss and endings, and looking to a future that feels like a “map of roads, forking and intersecting, abrupt terminations and fading endings.”

This novel not only provides a satisfying read, it also gives an incredibly insightful backstory to ponder as you explore the modern day city that is glamorous Hamburg, now an architecturally innovative and successful place, just 70 or so years down the line.

And what a gorgeous cover, Cecil Beaton certainly knew how to take pictures!

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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