The ruins of post–World War II Germany provide the complicated emotional background to a sensitive but inconsistent story exploring the fallout from epic catastrophe and loss.
Like Sadie Jones in Small Wars, Brook (The Testimony of Taliesin Jones, 2001, etc.) approaches history through the differing experiences of a married couple. British colonel Lewis Morgan has been so immersed in war that he has scarcely grieved the loss of his elder son. Now appointed governor of Pinneberg, in the fire-bombed city of Hamburg, and reunited with wife Rachael and younger son Edmund after a 17-month separation, Lewis is billeted in a luxurious art-deco mansion, saving its owner, cultured German architect Stefan Lubert, from eviction by allowing him and his rebellious daughter to live in an upstairs apartment. Rachael, still consumed by grief and “fragile nerves,” responds icily to Lubert, at first. Meanwhile, the British, trying to put Germany back on its feet while weeding out the Nazis, are caught between pressure from Russia and the struggle to satisfy the expectations of a victorious but exhausted nation at home. This promising scenario, drawn in part from family history, offers Brook the opportunity for insight and empathy in Lewis, but elsewhere, the psychology and plot developments are patchier. The open-ended conclusion could conceivably lead to a sequel.
Uneven storytelling fails to do justice to a fascinating moment in history.