Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 22, 2018

The Aftermath, by Rhidian Brook #BookReview

The Aftermath, set in Hamburg in the immediate post-war period, has such an unusual premise that I wouldn’t have believed it could happen except that the author, Rhidian Brook, says that something like it actually took place.  It is 1946 and under the Occupation by the Four Powers (Britain, France, the USSR and the USA) Britain has requisitioned some of the surviving housing for their senior servicemen who are managing reconstruction and de-Nazification.  But Colonel Lewis Morgan, when he sees the size of the house he has been assigned, makes a quixotic decision to share the house with its previous owners, and so it is that former enemies who have much to resent end up living under the same roof.

The story begins with some confronting images of the devastation and then the awkward reunion of Lewis with his wife Rachael, who is still traumatised by a German bombing raid on a quiet town in Wales to which they had been evacuated for safety.  She was literally blown across the room,  and her son was killed.  She and her surviving son Edmund haven’t seen Lewis since the funeral and these relationships are all under strain.  Rachael is, as you would expect, extremely hostile to the idea of any fraternisation with any Germans, whereas Lewis, a decent man, is keen to do his best to restore normality as soon as possible though not all his colleagues feel the same.

The owner of the house, an architect called Richard Lubert, has lost his wife Claudia in the firestorm, and his daughter Frieda (about the same age as Edmund) hates the British with a passion.  These interlopers, she thinks, have consigned the Luberts to the servants’ quarters upstairs, while they enjoy all the comforts of a wealthy household including their three surviving servants.  With the schools still in chaos, Frieda goes out to help clear the rubble each day, and comes in contact with a member of a resistance group which has refused to accept defeat.

The proximity of these characters allows for a penetrating exploration of vengeance and forgiveness, guilt and blame in a very charged atmosphere.  Brook’s approach is open-minded, showing that there were people on all sides who behaved well and badly. He makes a point I had not previously understood that in the carve-up between the Four Powers, Britain, already struggling under austerity at home, had acquired the most badly-damaged region (because they had done the bombing) while delayed entrants to the war against fascism and those who capitulated made things more difficult, with for example, the Soviets refusing to supply grain from the bread-basket region that they controlled unless the British blew up surviving factories which would otherwise be competitors in the post-war economy.  And this of course made it even more difficult to get Germany back to work and on the road to self-sufficiency.   The Americans, yet to implement the Marshall Plan at this stage though rapidly realising it was necessary, were already operating with a Cold War mentality, and were beginning to lose interest in the massive task of identifying former Nazis (something I already knew about from my reading of Post War Lies by Malte Herwig.)  There is an interesting episode in which a German character thought to be blameless turns out to have evil buried deep within, and there are also instances of the British Occupiers behaving in a very shabby way.

There are all kinds of betrayals in this novel, and I am not surprised to learn that the author is also a screenwriter, because there is a cinematic quality to the scenes, and compelling trajectory to the narrative.  I think it would make an excellent film.

I am indebted to New Zealand blogger C.P. Snow, who reviewed this book when it was first published.

Author: Rhidian Brook
Title: The Aftermath
Publisher: Penguin 2014
ISBN: 9780241957479
Source: Kingston Library

Available from Fishpond: The Aftermath


Responses

  1. I love the sound of this – I love anything about people who can rise above such personal horror to do a fair or reasonable or humane thing. (I don’t know how it ends of course, but clearly his heart was in the right place.)

    • It would make such a good book group choice. There are even questions in the back of the book…

      • Sounds like it Lisa, though my bookgroup usually eschews bookgroup questions. We tend not to even look for them or at them, because they are usually not great, though we have been surprised occasionally. And to be honest, when someone says a book would be “a good bookgroup choice” I recoil, because so often what people think is “a good bookgroup choice” is often one of those “issues” books that become all the rage and then disappear! (However, I don’t think this book is in that category, is it.)

        • I know what you mean… like those Jodi Piccoult books… and yes, I dislike book group Qs at the back of the book because they are usually so reminiscent of the sort of questions you hope don’t get asked in secondary schools!
          But this book is more about exploring the gulf between ethical imperatives and the human capacity to fulfil them.

          • Exactly.

            Now, do the questions at the back of this book tease out the things we’d like to discuss?

  2. What a gem of a book this sounds. Must add it to my wishlist especially since he is from Wales. I see thst he turned to scriptwriting when he couldn’t get his novel writing off the ground.

    • I thought of you as soon as I saw he was Welsh!

      • Im ashamed to say I’ve not read him yet. Oops……

        • You can’t read everything!

          • Even trying to do so would drive me crazy

  3. This sounds ideal for me. Last year I read a non-fiction book, The Berlin Airlift, which detailed the split within Germany. It was quite fascinating and I’m keen to read more on life there in that era.

    • If you can get hold of it, there’s a really good German TV series (with subtitles) called Line of Separation. It’s set in a small town that’s right on the border between East and West Germany, and the wall gets built right down the middle of it. It’s very well done:)

      • That sounds like something I’d enjoy, thanks. I don’t mind subtitles, I know some people do, but I grew up in a bilingual flemish/english household so it doesn’t faze me.

        • I watch lots of foreign film: I find it much better than Hollywood!

          • Agreed! More substantial.

            • I think it’s because we only see the best of them, the dross doesn’t get subtitled and it doesn’t get distributed here.

  4. I used to watch a very boys-own TV series about the Berlin airlift, not relevant at all really, but as close as I ever got to this time. I think it took the British public a long time to realise that winning the war was going to involve them in significant costs as the US concentrated on restricting the Russians.

    • Well, as Malcolm Fraser said in his book Dangerous Allies, the US only ever helps its allies if it’s in their own self-interest. How it was in their self-interest to let Britain and the rest of Europe fall to the Nazis I don’t know, but they took that risk when they stood by and did nothing during the Battle of Britain.


Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: