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The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert
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The Dark Room (2001)

by Rachel Seiffert

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2001 "novel", which I have to frankly say is not a novel. These are three independent stories, whose only commonality is their focus on individuals whose lives are largely determined by the disaster of Nazi Germany, whether immediately or, as in the third story, at a distance. The first entry, "Helmut" (45 pgs), centers on a boy, born with a mild but significant deformity, to a couple in Berlin. They see their affluence rise from harsh times in the early 1920s to relative security through the middle 30s, tellingly in lockstep with the Nazi rise. Helmut is denied army inscription, becomes a budding photographer under a kind mentor, and then war takes its horrible turn for Berliners. Not great for me as I couldn't find sympathy for Helmut. Next is "Lore" (107 pgs), a very good short novel set at the time of German surrender, in which Lore and her younger siblings are left alone after their Nazi parents (as is highly inferred) are captured in the western, American quadrant, with only the instruction from their mother, "take the children to Hamburg", to their grandmother's (Oma's) home. Tense and authentic-seeming adventure ensues. Lastly, "Micha" (119 pgs), brings us to modern day (late 90s) Germany, where an inquisitive college prof becomes enraptured by his effort to find out if his SS-Waffen grandfather was a ruthless killer during WWII in Belarus. I'll leave it there, but an affecting story, though I sense that it could have been pared down as a more effective short piece. Sieffert writes in a brisk manner, sometimes curtailing sentences and tending toward short dialogue exchanges. For me, "Lore" was easily the strongest here. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Apr 10, 2017 |
'How do you tell the difference? When he's Opa and when he's a Nazi?', 30 Dec. 2013
By
sally tarbox

This review is from: The Dark Room: World War 2 Fiction (Paperback)
Three utterly engrossing short stories, set in Germany and - unusually - looking at the War from a German perspective. In the first, a disabled young man lives a solitary life, working in a photography shop while his peers go off to fight... The middle story follows a young girl, shepherding her young siblings through post-war Germany to find her grandmother, when her Nazi parents are imprisoned...While the final, and perhaps most heart-rending, is set in the modern day, and concerns a young teacher trying to find out and come to terms with the truth about his grandfather, once a member of the SS stationed in Belorussia:
"Micha shuts the photo album, tells himself, he was a soldier, but in his head he inserts the photos from the museum. Thick pages; a whole album of atrocities between the honeymoon and the newborn boy." ( )
  starbox | Jul 9, 2016 |
I've read a couple of novels that lacked dialogue and they didn't work. The first chapter of this is proof that it can be done; it must just be very difficult. When the dialogue does come in the second chapter it's presented idiosyncraticly and made me relished how unnecessary speech marks and attribution are, in the right hands.

That first chapter is beautiful, like a series of silent snapshots. There's some very subtle and clever writing in the second chapter. Overall, I think there was something missing from the novel, and having read her later, and far superior, novel, Afterwards, I know it's a central character, a nexus, to bind the tricolon together. Still, she gets an extra star for tackling such a difficult subject. ( )
  Lukerik | Apr 1, 2016 |
(8.5) ( )
  HelenBaker | Jun 19, 2015 |
Although I give this a 4, I feel this book was uneven in quality, so maybe 3.5 rounded to 4 is more accurate.
The binding theme of these three novellas about ordinary Germans of successive generations was how the protagonists and those around them were affected by World War II. Each was a bleak story but also searing psychological fiction.

"Helmut" is a young man, born in 1921 with a physical defect. Because of a missing muscle, he cannot lift his right arm above his shoulder. He is made fun of in school, barred from sports, rejected for military service, and becomes a photographer's assistant. We follow him through the war, the bombing, and the life he makes for himself, always taking marvellous photographs of the ever-changing Berlin.

"Lore" is a young girl at war's end, who bravely leads her brothers and sisters on a harrowing, nail-biting journey from her family's Bavarian home to Hamburg, where she will find their grandmother. On the way, a mysterious young man, Tomas, joins them and takes them through the different zones of occupation. This novella was later made into a feature film of the same name, which I would like very much to see someday. I felt this novella the best of the three.

"Micha" is a young teacher in 1997, seeking the truth about his soldier grandfather, a Waffen SS officer who had served on the Eastern Front. Micha had known him only as a kind, loving grandfather, not as a brutal soldier. Micha wants to reconcile the two personae in his own mind. This last novella, the longest of the three, was very sad and painful to read. I felt it was the most thoughtful. The persistent Micha keeps running down blind alleys after 'leads'; people keep pushing him away from the truth. He finally makes contact with a man in Belarus.

These marvellous psychological studies were shown off to best advantage by the author's spare, stark writing style. I felt I was right inside the protagonists' heads and could feel their emotions. As I read, the very vivid wording and and crisp dialogue impressed me. This was noted in Wall Street Journal in September, 2013, as one of the best fiction books on children and war. ( )
  janerawoof | Mar 9, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 009928717X, Paperback)

The Dark Room tells the stories of three ordinary Germans: Helmut, a young photographer in Berlin in the 1930s who uses his craft to express his patriotic fervour; Lore, a twelve-year-old girl who in 1945 guides her young siblings across a devastated Germany after her Nazi parents are seized by the Allies; and, fifty years later, Micha, a young teacher obsessed with what his loving grandfather did in the war, struggling to deal with the past of his family and his country.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:00 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The Dark Room tells the stories of three ordinary Germans: Helmut, a young photographer in Berlin in the 1930s who uses his craft to express his patriotic fervour; Lore, a twelve-year-old girl who in 1945 guides her young siblings across a devastated Germany after her Nazi parents are seized by the Allies; and, fifty years later, Micha, a young teacher obsessed with what his loving grandfather did in the war, struggling to deal with the past of his family and his country.… (more)

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