Sunday, 10 August 2014
The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook
Hamburg, 1946. Thousands remain displaced in what is now the British Occupied Zone. Charged with overseeing the rebuilding of this devastated city and the de-Nazification of its defeated people, Colonel Lewis Morgan has requisitioned a fine house on the banks of the Elbe, where he will be joined by his grieving wife Rachael and only remaining son Edmund.
But rather than force its owners, a German widower and his traumatised daughter, to leave their home, Lewis insists that the two families live together. In this charged and claustrophobic atmosphere all must confront their true selves as enmity and grief give way to passion and betrayal.
The cover of this book very nearly put me off. As a horror and sci-fi fan, I'm not really a fan of post-war tales of romance, and the attractive woman looking wistfully off-camera on this book didn't fill me with hope. However, it's currently the Waterstones Book of the Month, which is apparently voted for by booksellers, so I figured it was worth a read.
I'm so glad I took the chance.
Far from the romance novel I was expecting, this is an eye-opening view of a nation coming out of the war, confronting the reality of being on the losing side, and having to start rebuilding everything from scratch. It's an emotional thriller that follows each of the complex main characters through the journey to come to terms the situation.
Post-War Germany is painted to be a bleak and desperate place with its people starving and children begging in the streets for 'ciggies' they can trade for food. It's emotionally charged and uncomfortable to read at times.
It's full of subtle twists and turns, nothing you won't see coming, but that doesn't matter. I was particularly fascinated by Frieda, German Lubert's adolescent daughter. She wasn't a likeable character, but the way the grief for her mother manifests itself is interesting and I thought her emotional indifference was highly believable.
It's not all bleak. The underlying sense of hope is what makes this a real page-turner.
Brook's has taken inspiration from his family history and their experience in post-War Germany. It's an eye-opening read that's as unsettling as it is compelling. I'm not surprised The Aftermath is currently being made into a movie, I'll be first in line to see it brought to life.
The Aftermath is published by Viking and available as a paperback, ebook and audiobook now.