Rhidian Brook’s historical novel- The aftermath– was my next book group read. I’ve read a lot of historical fiction of late, particularly books set around WWII (All the light we cannot see, Salt to the sea, The light between oceans, Wolf Hollow…), so I wasn’t sure how it would hold up.
It’s the bitter winter of 1946 in the war torn remains of Hamburg; people are displaced, starving. British Colonel, Lewis is tasked with the re-building of the once great city and the search for Nazis. Gifted a grand house, compassionate Lewis decides not to evict its previous tenants- German architect Lubert and his troubled daughter Frieda- much to the dismay of his wife, Rachel and remaining son Edmund. What follows is a story of loss, love and choices. In varying shades of grey.
This book made me feel so uncomfortable. In history, you’re always told about the effect war has on your country; the effects of the blitz, trench warfare, massive loss of life. This book highlights the impact of the war on Germany, something I knew very little about. The scenes describing the brutal reality of the starvation, the loss, the death and destruction were really difficult to read. Yes, the Germans fought against us, but these (for the most part) were just ordinary people fighting for their lives in the same way our men were. Ordinary Germans enlisted as Nazi Youth were stuck between a rock and a hard place; refuse the Nazis and be tried as a traitor, or join and face the wrath of the British… The reaction of the officials and their families is somewhat understandable, but it doesn’t make it any less gutting. I’ll get off my high horse now…
All of the characters were painted beautifully by Brook and all had an important part to play in the story. I absolutely loved the character of Lewis. I felt that his struggle between the popular opinion and the human reaction to suffering felt very realistic. It balanced out some of the more sadistic characters. The scene where he plays ‘But for the War’ with the other officials- the French, Americans and Russians- is so eye-opening. The stories from the ordinary people- the orphaned children, those desperately searching for missing family members, Rachel dealing with the loss of her child- were just as powerful. No one really won this war.
A fantastic book deeply rooted in truth. An important story that needed to be told.