The Aftermath – Rhidian Brook
Regular Book Boy readers will know I love books set in WW2 – whether it’s about the Holocaust or the Secret Service, there’s nothing I won’t read.
Yet there are few books out there which are set in the years immediately following that conflict.
So when I came across “The Aftermath“, a book which deals with life in Germany in the years immediately following the War I simply had get stuck in.
I’m glad I did, because this one, by Rhidian Brook, is not only both poignant and powerfully written, I think it has to be one of my top reads of 2013.
Not only is it thought-provoking and incredibly sensitive, this story, of a British family living in Hamburg in 1946 gets the full five stars and it deserves each and every one of them.
**Historical context klaxon**
In the last week of July 1943, the RAF and USAF absolutely obliterated Hamburg. More bombs apparently fell on the city in that one week than the entire payload suffered by London in the Blitz. It’s estimated that over 42,000 people died and 37,000 were wounded, and we “created a 1,500-foot-high tornado of fire.”
Now the War has finished and Hamburg lies in ruins.
But war is war, I guess, and so it was with great interest that I started this novel which is set in that desolate city some three years later.
British Army Colonel Lewis Morgan has been posted to Hamburg to oversee its reconstruction. As his wife, Rachael, and son, Edmund, travel across the North Sea to join him, a lavish house is requisitioned for their home from a German architect called Herr Lubert.
However, because Lewis Morgan is a Colonel with a conscience, he chooses not to evict Lubert and his teenage daughter onto the streets. As the house is big enough for them all, he suggests that they move to the top floor and the two families live together instead.
You see, the theme running through this book is that, rather than persecute the Germans, Morgan has a heart. He sees the deprivation in the city and just wants to help.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the view taken by Morgan’s wife, Rachael, who can’t get over losing her son from a German bombing raid. In the years since her loss, Rachael and Morgan have become virtual strangers to one another and their marriage is under strain.
So with Morgan busy with the thankless task of rebuilding Hamburg, the scene is set for Rachael to grow closer to the equally lonely Lubert. But as their affair begins, Rachael’s son Edmund finds himself falling into a gang of feral orphans, ‘rubble children’ who deal in the the Black Market.
Set in the backdrop of a bleak urban wasteland, where a clean white work certificate can be bought for 400 cigarettes, this city is a symbol of the devastation suffered by ordinary German people. Rhidian Brook will confront you with the dead, the starving, the loveless and the lonely, and he’ll prick your conscience as he does so.
You will feel a whole host of emotions – from sympathy to hatred – to jealousy and sadness.
You’ll feel angry at the British contingent which treat the Germans with hostility:
“You have to be firm. Show them who is boss. It’s better for everyone.”
Then you’ll feel sadness at the Germans who won’t stand for a British occupation and turn to the gun:
“That bullet was for you, Colonel. But it doesn’t matter. A friend of yours is an enemy of mine!”
It’s a stunning power-play of emotions. Larger-than-life characters leap forth from the pages, displacing themselves even moreso than the displacement they must have felt at the time. Inspired by his grandfather’s true story, this incredibly powerful and emotional book will have you questioning your morals, if not questioning your own relationship with your husband or wife.
Not every German was a Nazi.
Not every British soldier was a hero.
“The Aftermath” is proof that humanity triumphs in the end. A must-read book and one which takes pride of place on my bookshelf.
The Book Boy Rating – 5/5