Imagine a world without institutions. No governments. No school or universities. No access to any information. No banks. Money no longer has any worth. There are no shops, because no one has anything to sell. Law and order are virtually non-existent because there is no police force and no judiciary. Men with weapons roam the streets taking what they want. Women of all classes and ages prostitute themselves for food and protection.
This is not the beginning to a futuristic thriller, but a history of Europe in the years directly following World War II, when many European cities were in ruins, millions of people were displaced, and vengeance killings were common, as was rape.
The book has just won the Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History from the English branch of PEN, and its narrative flies in the face of what we are used to hearing about that period. This is precisely what interested Lowe.
"I was used to seeing these wonderful, cozy myths about the way the war ended," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, "and everybody celebrating and sailors grabbing hold of nurses in New York's Times Square and kissing them and all of these sort of things. And I was aware that it hadn't quite ended like that." (Shortride)