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Member Name: pje
The Dark Room - Rachel Seiffert
Date: 24/02/02, updated on 24/02/02 (129 review reads)
Advantages: A moving read.
I have to admit that I didn't approach this book with a good attitude. Not another bloody book about the War, I thought. If this year's Booker Prize judges short-list another war book, why I'll... Ahem, anyway...
Rachel Seiffert is half German and half-Australian, she was bullied at school for being 'a Nazi' - rather unlikely seeing as she was born in Oxford in 1971. She wrote The Dark Room at Glasgow University, and now lives in Berlin.
I put off reading this book for a long time. I was wrong to, because it's not what I expected at all. I've never read (almost) 400 pages quite so quickly - it's a real page-turner. Seiffert's writing carries the reader along at a brisk pace, using short, snappy sentences and lots of dialogue. For a Booker Prize nominee it's unusually readable. (There was no chance of me nodding off while reading this one!) But it's not really a novel though...
The Dark Room consists of three novellas, showing how the second world war directly, or indirectly, affected three ordinary German people:- Helmut, who is a young man at the outbreak of the war; Lore who is a child at the end of it; and, from the present day, Micha who is trying to discover what part his grandfather played in the holocaust.
HELMUT is the only child of poor parents in Berlin. He has a deformed arm which keeps him out of the clutches of the military, and as he grows up he becomes a bit of a trainspotter (they live near the railway station).
When his father gets a job working in a photographer's shop, the owner, sympathetic to their family's plight, takes on Helmut as an apprentice, teaching him the art of photography. But when the war breaks out, going around taking photographs is suspicious behaviour. Then Berlin is bombed one night and...sorry, I can't say any more without going too far.
LORE (Hannelore) is twelve, and her parents are members of the Nazi party. Bu
t this is early 1945, the war is lost, and no amount of burning papers and hiding badges will preserve their freedom. So when the Americans arrive, Lore's mother asks her to take her younger brothers and sister (including baby Peter) to their grandmother's house in Hamburg. But the trains aren't running, as movement is restricted, so the children embark on a long trek. It's a struggle. Food is scarce, and to get to Hamburg they have to cross over into the British zone. Along the way they meet a young man who has something up his sleeve which proves useful, but can they trust him
MICHA (Michael) knows that his beloved Opa (grandfather) was a member of the Waffen SS, and that the Russians held him captive for nine years after the war; but he is afraid to ask his Oma (grandmother) why. He has some fond memories of his Opa, and the possibility that he might have been a murderer is hard to accept. He HAS to know, but he's scared to find out. Micha's girlfriend Mina hits the nail on the head when she asks him:
"Will you still love him if he killed people?"
Micha scours the library archives to try and find some mention of his Opa, and his quest becomes an obsession which in turn has a detrimental effect on relationships within his family. He even travels to Belarus, where his Opa was stationed, afraid of what he might find out. There he finds a man who remembers; a man who was there. A man who is reluctant to talk about it...
These are three enthralling and very moving short stories, each offering a different perspective on how ordinary, innocent, people are affected by war. They don't all live happily ever after.
I found The Dark Room hard to pick up, but impossible to put down.
You should read this book.
ĥ Paperback: £6.99 ĥ ISBN: 009928717X ĥ pp 391 ĥ `7 Feb 2002 ĥ
ĥ Hardback: £12.99 ĥ ISBN: 0434009865 ĥ pp 391 ĥ 14 Jun 2001 ĥ
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