In his seventh novel, Kennedy (Columbine, 1980) tackles the highly charged subject of the lives of German citizenry near the end of World War II. Ten-year-old Ingeborg has moved with her mother and younger brother from Berlin to Potsdam in an effort to escape the bombings. Her father is a German soldier currently listed as missing in action. But Ingeborg assumes, with simple bright-child logic: ``If the letters that had been sent to her father had not reached where he was, that did not mean that he was not where he was. It meant only that the letters had not got to where he was.'' The more conditions around them deteriorate, the more tightly she clings to the prospect of her father's return. In lieu of her father, the flirtatious and sycophantic child takes various mentors, all comically unable to fulfill her needs. It's indeed a difficult task, made more so because Kennedy never seems to get Ingeborg's age right: she's precocious on one page, infantile on the next. More interesting than his characters are Kennedy's lush descriptions: scenes in cellars during air raids, accounts of searching for food, frantic illegal flight, and destroying any signs of Nazi loyalty just before the Russians arrive. Particularly memorable is a passage in which Ingeborg shoves a letter to her father, returned in the last regular mail delivery, into the church offertory box. Unfortunately, these evocative passages are ruined by Kennedy's past-tense rhetorical style, i.e., his insistence on pointing out what he's just described. The emotional content is thus watered down in a plot that can best be understood emotionally. Splendid secondhand descriptions are not enough to carry the thin storyline and simplistic ending.
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