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The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

The Aftermath (original 2013; edition 2013)

by Rhidian Brook

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2821439,987 (3.69)17
Title:The Aftermath
Authors:Rhidian Brook
Info:Viking (2013), Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook (2013)


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This novel takes place in Germany after WWII--the aftermath of the war, so it’s historical fiction.

Colonel Lewis Morgan is very good at his job--he truly wants to help the German people rebuild. There are feelings on both sides--the winners and losers--which makes working together difficult. The winners have divided the country. Lewis is British, so he lives in the English area of Germany--Hamburg. Hamburg was absolutely devastated by the British--more bombs were dropped on this city in one week than Germany dropped on London during the entire war. People are missing, there’s little food, and there’s a lot of bitterness.

Because places to live are few, the Allies requisition what they need. Lewis has been given a very nice mansion in which to live, but he feels that it is ridiculous to put someone who actually has a home out on the street. He, therefore, asks the German owner and his daughter to stay, which is frowned upon by his superiors. They’ll live upstairs while Lewis lives in the main part of the house with his wife and son, who will arrive shortly. Lewis keeps everything inside himself; to keep from succumbing to the demands and cruelties of war, he stays busy. His first in command below him appreciates Lewis’s efficiency and attitude. He’s a good man here to help despite the attitude of the others.

Stefan Lubert and his daughter Freda must prove their innocence. Every German citizen has to show that he or she is not a Nazi. If there’s evidence of helping the Nazis at any time, the person is arrested. One of Lewis’s associates is in charge of ferreting out the evil ones. Stefan is a man who has lost his wife and never supported Hitler. He feels lost. He’s an architect who cannot work until he’s cleared. Because her body wasn’t found, Stefan’s wife is presumed dead. His sense of loss intensifies because he couldn’t find her in the rubble and give her the burial she deserved and the closure he and his daughter Freda need. He’s also estranged from his daughter who adheres to the Nazi ideas because she cannot be nice to those who killed her mother; she would prefer to subvert them. The Nazi regimen gives her focus.

Lewis’s wife is lonely and lost, looking for meaning. She witnessed the death of her son. Her remaining son Edmund wishes she weren’t so sad all the time. He wasn’t there when the house was hit by a bomb, so he doesn’t have the nightmares and survivor’s guilt that his mother has. Rachel also feels separate from Lewis because he doesn’t seem upset enough about their son’s death. He also works all the time, so she’s left in a foreign land living with a German, the people who killed her son.

This is a novel of reconciliation, loss, healing, and forgiveness. Rachel and Lubert understand each other and have to help each other find themselves again. Lewis believes that with a plan all will be well. He fights to be civil within the country but can’t connect with his wife because she is so distant. He perseveres no matter what. I liked the novel a great deal--it’s sad but it shows that there are many ways to heal. Forgiveness is something that requires as much effort as war. We all have a responsibility towards one another and only through assistance and knowledge of one another can healing take place. I would have liked more information at the conclusion of the novel, but it’s not a deal breaker for being a good novel. ( )
  acargile | Mar 19, 2017 |
The year is 1946, and the setting is a country that has been destroyed, where we are taken to a city that lies in ruins, and introduced to a people, many of whom have been displaced and are hungry. This is Hamburg, Germany and this is the scene of this remarkable novel. Colonel Lewis Morgan is entrusted with the role of overseeing the rebuilding of Hamburg in the British Occupied Zone of the newly carved up post World War II Germany, and with the de-Nazification of the people. His wife Rachael and son Edmund come over from England to join him. They lost their other son in the war and Rachael is still grieving very deeply. Lewis requisitions an elegant house on the banks of the river Elbe, but unlike others who force out the owners, he allows the resident German family, consisting of widower Lubert and his unhappy daughter Freda to remain in their home, living in the top floor apartment, whilst his family lives below. This unconventional arrangement forms the intriguing backdrop of the story.

We learn of brief moments in the lives of each of them, Lewis and Rachael, and the children Edmund and Freda. For all of them, for all of Germany too, it is the aftermath of something enormous. Also we meet some children reduced to living off whatever they can find, steal and barter with, the main character amongst these being the charismatic but vulnerable Ozi. The chapters move between all of them throughout the story, allowing the author to depict many sides to the situation, and give an adult's and a child's perspective. But the narrator didn't feel intrusive; rather the characters were allowed to speak for themselves. I think there were times when I wanted to be back with the scene or characters we had just left, which tells me that I was involved with the story.

Lewis is a kind man, showing understanding towards the Germans and comprehension of the realities of the situation the people are now facing; whatever they have done, whatever has gone before, he is trying to be practical in dealing with the present. His differing stance and approach is one of the main aspects of the story that stood out for me. Others are much more severe, perhaps understandably so. The contrasts in behaviour certainly challenge our preconceptions. Lewis is a fascinating man, professional in his work and a compassionate character, who has very much separated his home and working lives, his mind mirroring Germany itself, with its new occupiers. Rachael observes that her husband's thoughts are divided into different areas:

'She could see he was preoccupied. Preoccupied with the occupied. His mind was divided into two zones, the larger, and by far more interesting, being the zone of work, with its needy subdivisions. He was fine as long as the other zone - the domestic zone inhabited by her and Edmund, the Luberts, the staff - was able to take care of itself with minimal input from him...but just for now she wanted him to engage with her realm, however small.'

Indeed it is his working life that is the sphere he feels more at ease in; comprehending how to renew his relationship with his wife and surviving son after the war seems much more of a battle than the other one he faces; after one all too brief intimate moment 'his mind had already returned to the zone where he felt safest and more effective: to the less complicated needs of a thousand faceless Germans and the rehabilitation of a country.' The fact that this mammoth task facing him seems less difficult than rebuilding his familial relationships shows just how hard this latter task feels for him. He is out of practice with regard to this side of life, and now, being back on intimate terms together 'suddenly required an ability to interpret and understand the nuances of a dialect Lewis had not spoken for over a year.'

Rhidian Brook tackles the subject of guilt and innocence, as the British assess Germans to try and determine the extent of their wartime activities and involvement with the Nazis. People were assessed using a Fragebogen - a questionnaire - 'to determine the degree of a German citizen's collaboration with the regime.' He demonstrates how easy it is to view the situation as black and white, but suggests that we need to look deeper. When he himself is questioned, Lubert realises that, despite his explanations, the man questioning him sees elements of his past as all being part of, or linked to, the Nazi regime. 'How simple this mathematics was: an equation that always ended 'equals guilty'. The numbers and fractions that got you there were unimportant.'

Music is important to Rachael, and it is a connection between her and Herr Lubert. She is determined at first to keep herself distant from him and Freda, or as much as possible given that they are, after all, still under the same roof, but it doesn't take long before 'the careful lines she had planned to lay down - had started to lay down - were already being crossed.' We wonder if this is a sign of things to come. Meanwhile Edmund forms his own bonds amongst the displaced children scavenging and hiding in nearby properties, and demonstrates his own kindness, as well as a touching innocence at times. He has missed his father and has 'a whole war's worth' of questions for him.

There are some well-observed moments even of the minutiae of life in those strange times; witness the 'three officer's wives, comparing household inventories', about which Brook wittily writes that 'it was testament to the miracle of British bureaucracy that even in these bankrupt times it could find within its broken and bust self the wherewithal to decide that a captain's wife did not need a four-place tea set, that a major's needed a full dinner service, and that only the commanding officers' wives should have a port decanter.'

There is some stunning imagery and poetry to the prose that I loved and which made this novel a joy to read for me; Rhidian Brook has a lovely way with words. This description of the weather struck me: 'pregnant grey-black snowclouds loomed, ready to dress the village in fairy-tale clothes.'

And I loved this striking and very poignant image of a ruined church: 'The facade of a church stood on one side of the road, with only sky for stained glass and the wind for a congregation.'

Later, there is a suggestion that the house itself is judging Rachael; 'It looked to Rachael as if the house were narrowing its eyes at her. The dusk made a grimacing smile of the slats on the balcony.'

I thought this description of a fire was wonderful, too; 'A fire was a theatre in its own right and this one was loud and lively, full of intriguing plots and sub-plots.'

I really, really liked this book. It was surprising, shocking and thrilling at times, and engaging throughout. It deals with some big themes; love, passion and separation, loss, lies and a nation's guilt, and asks difficult questions that can make you feel uneasy or make you reconsider how you had viewed people; it certainly makes you think. I am always interested in fiction that deals with Germany in this period and I think this is a very readable, compelling new novel to add to that field. After hearing about this story I was excited about reading it and I wasn't disappointed. I feel like I could write and write about it, both in terms of language and storylines, so I think it would be a fabulous novel for bookgroups as there are so many fascinating issues arising that could be discussed and debated. It is also going to be made into a film I believe. One of my favourite reads so far in 2013. ( )
  LindsaysLibrary | Aug 19, 2016 |
The Aftermath begins in September 1946, three years after the Allied air raids destroyed the city of Hamburg, killing more than 40,000 inhabitants and displacing a million others. Now, a year after the war’s end, Hamburg is filled with the hungry and homeless, who beg for food and shelter. Colonel Lewis Morgan has been stationed in Hamburg to oversee the rebuilding of the city. After three years apart, his wife Rachael and son Edmund plan join him there. The home requisitioned for him belongs to Stefan Lubert, an architect awaiting official permission to work again. Morgan's conscience won't let him evict Lubert and his hostile teenage daughter, Frieda, so he convinces his wife that they can share the home. The Lubert's move to the top floor where it is assumed the two families will rarely see each other.

Rachael Morgan is horrified that they are living in the same house as their former enemy. She is still grieving for her older son who was killed when a bomb was dumped by a British plane returning from a raid. Lewis and Rachael have been apart for many years and living with the German family adds even more stress to their relationship. Meanwhile eleven year old Edmund is learning German and making friends with an unsavory gang of young, starving orphans.

The author did a wonderful job of describing the bleak city, especially during a brutal winter. The characters were interesting but sometimes lacked depth. I felt like I wanted to know more about this time period and city once the book was finished. The ending was just a bit abrupt, but overall it was well worth reading. ( )
  Olivermagnus | Aug 17, 2016 |
This novel was interesting, in terms of the time it was set and the perspective the reader gets but wasn't as fantastic as I hoped. Somehow there were parts that didn't ring true or were just shoe-horned in for effect. The novel is about forgiveness and moving forward without hatred and blame and it does this quite nicely, following a family who need to come to terms with their own loss and a nation, the Germans, who have to come to terms with their loss. Set in Hamburg in 1946, the destruction of the city is well drawn and the different attitudes of the English occupying force are good and useful. ( )
  Tifi | Jun 21, 2016 |

71. Review - [The Aftermath] by [[Rhidian Brook]]

Germany 1946. Hamburg lies in smouldering ruins, and the British forces are now occupying the city as part of the post-war recovery operation, tasked with the re-education of a fallen nation and the rebuilding of the city and its inhabitants.

The atmosphere between the British and Germans is tense; Germans are not allowed to resume their previous occupations until they have received full security clearance, most have been moved to holding camps, work is menial and food is scarce. By contrast, the British top brass have been moved into the luxurious homes of the city's displaced elite, living well other people's fine art, personal possessions and household staff.

Colonel Lewis Morgan, when assigned the house of a wealthy local architect, takes the unprecedented step of electing to share the house with the widowed owner and his daughter rather than displacing them. Joined by his wife and son from England, the two families are forced together in a charged atmosphere of distrust, grief and guilt, where family and military loyalties are tested and the old rules no longer apply.

This was an excellent read, full of atmosphere, emotion and suspense. An enthralling fictional account of what must have been an incredibly tense period in history, and one which I've not read any detailed accounts of before.

4 stars - a gripping historical setting for a complex emotional story. ( )
1 vote AlisonY | Dec 4, 2015 |
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Postwar Hamburg is the backdrop for British writer Brook's emotionally charged third novel, which is inspired by his family history. British Col. Lewis Morgan is stationed in the German city in 1946. He requisitions a house for his family, but instead of casting out its German owners (the standard procedure), he allows them to remain. Brook's chilling observations of Hamburg's defeated inhabitants and "the fantastic destruction that lay all around" are unnerving and riveting. "Feral" children, he writes, beg for cigarettes and chocolates, and "Rubble Runners" clean up the remains of bombed-out buildings in exchange for food vouchers. But the novel's smaller stage—the home that Morgan; his wife, Rachael; and their son, Edmund, share with Stefan Lubert and his daughter, Freda—tells the bigger story. The blended families are uncomfortable with their new relationship, and the toxic effects of unassuaged grief for lost love ones complicates the situation.
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'You will be called the repairer of broken walls.' Isaiah 58:12

'It doesn't seem to make any sense - one family in a place this size.' - Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
This book is dedicated to Walter, Anthea, Colin, Sheila and Kim Brook
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The Beast is here.
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Assigned to oversee the reconstruction of Hamburg in the tumultuous year following World War II, Colonel Lewis Morgan grieves the loss of his son while living with his family in the home of a German widower, an arrangement that forces both families to confront their passions and true selves.
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Assigned to oversee the reconstruction of Hamburg in the tumultuous year following World War II, Colonel Lewis Morgan grieves the loss of his son while living with his family in the home of a German widower, an arrangement that forces both families to confront their passions and true selves.… (more)

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