It is 1946, the Second World War is over, and the country of Germany has been divided into four zones - British, French, Russian, and American. The city of Hamburg is in the British Occupied Zone and it is here that Colonel Lewis Morgan is one of the top people in charge of rebuilding the city. As a higher-up in the military, Colonel Morgan has been requisitioned a house on the banks of the Elbe River to live in with his grieving wife Rachael, and their son Edmund.
But while others are forcing the German owners out of their homes so they can live in them, Colonel Morgan can't bring himself to do it. Instead, he proposes that the owner, a widower and his teenage daughter, remain living in the home with his family. This decision leads to a charged atmosphere in which everyone in the home must confront their grief and misconceptions head on.
The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook is a novel about war, loyalty, passion, commitment, and betrayal. Inspired by the real life story of Brook's grandfather, the book is an exercise in the power of forgiveness.
I found this part of history fascinating to read in novel form. We know so much about what happened during the war, but for those of us who don't live in Europe, there isn't as much focus on the rebuilding in our textbooks. Even as a student of history, the de-Nazification program put on by the British in Germany isn't something I knew much about. What I really appreciated about this book was the balance between history and story. This book really is about the characters and their stories but I also felt like I learned so much about this time in history.
There is so much to think about while reading this book. Each character is going through a struggle of their own, affected by the war in so many different ways, and they all take different paths in dealing with their pain. What I thought was very well-written in this book was that regardless of their past or their "side" you felt strongly for each character.
At the beginning of the book I wasn't sure if it was going to be for me. What drew me in was the premise of the English and German family living together in the same house so soon after the war. Then I read the article in The Telegraph about how Brook's own grandfather inspired the book as he found himself in the position requisitioning a home and making the decision to allow the German family to stay. Knowing that this was a real-life act of kindness really brought the book to life, even if other parts of the book are entirely fiction.
All in all, even in the times where it didn't feel like there was much happening plot-wise this was a book that made me want to continue reading straight through to the end. It's one of those books that isn't earth-shattering but I'm still glad I made the decision to read it. There is definitely a lot to be learned here.
The article in The Telegraph can be found here.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of Random House of Canada. The opinions expressed above are purely my own.