- Post-war Germany, Hamburg. The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook is a gentle novel with an emotionally difficult core: the adjustment of two families, one German one English, to the landscape of rubble a year after the end of the Second World War. Broken country, broken families, broken minds. The title refers to the aftermath of the war and also to the aftermath of events in the lives of both families. Both are grieving and are in new territory, geographically and emotionally. They are proud and unsure. Together, will they heal?
The English family: Colonel Lewis Morgan is occupied with the Occupied while his newly-arrived wife Rachael prevaricates, “I don’t know. It was suffix and prefix to her every other thought. This indecision was becoming her signature.” Their son Edmund has no such doubts, facing a challenging encounter with the teenage girl upstairs involving a glimpse of knickers and a steaming pisspot, he then ventures beyond the house’s garden into forbidden territory and meets the local feral youth.
The German family: Herr Lubert, a widower, and his daughter move upstairs when the Morgans arrive in the requisitioned house. Ironically Stefan Lubert is an architect, surrounded by broken buildings, but works instead in a factory while waiting for his papers to arrive which will allow him to practise again. School is closed so Frieda is on the ‘rubble runs’, clearing bricks and rubbish, where she mixes with the feral youth.
They all make their own adjustments to the new situation and for a while it is a quiet, polite tussle for power. Rachael makes changes in the house; she moves plants and drapes a modest cloth over a nude sculpture. She sets herself rules about not fraternising with the Germans, who she believes need punishing. She disagrees with Herr Lubert about a Mies van der Rohe chair which he explains is a Bauhaus design, functionality stripped to simplicity. She says it is uncomfortable.
It is as if each family is trying the other on for size, it is a fascinating observation of ordinary people in extraordinary times. Lewis reflects on the logic of the tasks he must perform: “They blow up a soap factory which employed two thousand Germans, made something everyone needed and had no military value whatsoever and, in return, the Russians send the Germans bread. It was like balancing Hell’s ledger.”
The cover of the book is an attractive, calm monotone and the story is also told in a calm tone; but underneath the emotions are building. As the initial discomfort eases, passion rises.
‘The Aftermath’ by Rhidian Brook [UK: Viking] Buy now
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