Dazzling debut by a gifted British-born author now living in Germany.
This three-part work's opening story, “Helmut,” begins in a Berlin photographer’s darkroom but then expands to take in the whole Third Reich and ghosts still lingering there. Photos taken by Helmut, a slow-witted photographer’s assistant, bring Berlin into focus in shades of gray, as if on film developing in chemicals. Helmut collects a street history of Berlin during the ’30s and under Allied bombing but has little feeling about what he’s doing and even thinks victory is at hand as Berlin falls. In the second tale, “Lore,” the eponymous teenage protagonist becomes head of the family when her parents are thrown into Allied internment camps after Germany surrenders. She must herd her four siblings many hundreds of miles across Bavaria to her grandmother’s house in Hamburg, all the while pushing a baby carriage full of belongings, bedding, and crockery through a countryside awash with starvation and wandering skeleton people just released from concentration camps. “Lore” excels as a small-scale model of epic storytelling. “Micha,” set in the late 1990s, strikes even more deeply. Young Micha, a teacher, finds himself bedeviled by second-hand guilt about what may have been his grandfather’s bloody misdeeds as a Waffen-SS soldier in Belarussia, where the Nazis murdered all Communists and Jews. After the war, the Soviets interned Granddad for nine years—but for what crimes? Micha's entire family and his pregnant girlfriend plead with him to abandon his obsession (they revere the patriarch as a charming artist), but he hurtles into his forebear’s perhaps horrid past with long hours of research into the files of Nazi criminals and many trips to a village in Belarussia where his grandfather may dutifully have killed hundreds.
From the brookwater prose and hovering sentence fragments of “Helmut” to the rich unfolding of the second and third stories, Seiffert’s style and sensibility are superb throughout.