Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dark times

As well as delving into my own past - and there's more to come - I've been reading a powerful first novel by Rachel Seiffert, The Dark Room. Shortlisted for the 2001 Booker Prize, this tells the story of three ordinary Germans: Helmut, a young photographer in Berlin in the 1930s; Lore, a twelve-year-old girl who guides her younger siblings across a devastated Germany after her Nazi parents are seized by the Allies; and Micha, a teacher in the 90s, obsessed with what his adored grandfather might have done during the war.

The prose is terse and sometimes ambiguous, the stories told in a vivid present, the dialogue presented with dramatic minimalism. Themes of guilt, shame and responisbility are wrestled with in story-telling that is deceptively simple. In the end you realise that no-one is completely blameless - and you wonder what has become of her characters. It made me look at the moral issues of the last century without knowing it - because I was caught up with these people.

One for your book-group or your own reading - I couldn't put it down.

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