Moore’s debut drama, set in the years before and after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, tells of three German families who fall prey to the Stasi secret police.
In 1983, a Stasi agent pressures Rudi Kessler, a butcher barely making ends meet, to supply information on two childhood friends: civil servant Karl and post-office worker Helmut. Both of them are allegedly passing intelligence to the enemy via microdots, and they each subsequently vanish. Rudi’s son, Alex, meanwhile, joins the Stasi; Karl’s son, Paul, becomes paranoid that other people, including waiters, are listening to his conversations. Years after the 1990 German reunification, Paul learns the identity of the person responsible for reporting his father to the secret police. As it happens, it’s the same man who was blackmailed by a former Stasi officer into marrying Paul’s cousin, Helga, as part of an intricate plan to recover stolen diamonds. Moore’s novel is so rich in history and character detail that it’s exciting even without the Stasi subplot, as Alex helps his mother find safety in democratic Denmark; Paul weds Englishwoman Rachel and makes a new life in the UK; and Helga’s new family faces tragedy as she loses her husband. Alex is one of the book’s more unsavory characters but also the most captivating; he’s generally disliked by people he knows, which is sublimely manifested in his repulsive habit of constantly sniffing. In one highlight, a notoriously violent Stasi thug grabs Alex, who denies his identity—before immediately sniffing and giving the ruse away. Moore incorporates the historical backdrop effectively, particularly the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, which serves as a palpable turning point; characters’ lives change swiftly and drastically, particularly those of former Stasi members. The story’s final act takes place in 2009, near the event’s 20-year anniversary. The novel feels a bit rushed at the end, as Stasi officers scramble to get their mitts on the diamonds. However, the unforgettable climax involves a multitude of characters—and not everyone’s left standing by the time it’s over.
A short, fast-paced historical novel with well-developed characters and settings.