In a tumultuous period in Germany’s history, a young girl grows into adulthood as she chases down her mother’s ghost in this historical novel.
Edda Ritter’s strongest memory of her childhood is a yellow kitchen. She also remembers the chocolates her father used to buy for her and the trips they used to take together. But those things seem like part of a different life after her father takes her to live in an orphanage in Berlin early in the 20th century. Edda’s mother died during childbirth and her father is about to go on a long journey, so someone has to take care of her. As she navigates life in a Catholic orphanage run by nuns—some cruel, some kind—and later serves as a Red Cross volunteer in a hospital, she begins to learn the realities of life, love, and war. The First World War brings chaos to Germany, and Edda feels adrift. Convinced that she can remember her mother dying as she was born, she searches for more memories of her as she also seeks for her father’s approval. Finding herself with child and working at a cabaret in 1920s Berlin, she still feels like something is missing, and both her country’s fate and her own are still uncertain. Hanson (Medicine Dreams, 2011, etc.) uses simple, spare prose to build a picture of Edda as someone both lost and extremely insightful about her position in life. Poised on the cusp of World War II, she observes that “in a time of blame, those chosen as targets need not be the actual cause of one’s misfortune, for it is the sting of one’s failure one wishes to assuage, and any target will do, especially those long suspected but not openly accused.” Balancing the book’s plot on the tipping point between the wars also gives it an appropriate poignancy that never crosses the line into cliché. Edda’s journey is a personal one, and although she’s a prickly character who isn’t always likable, she’s always human.
A refreshingly honest read that paints an uncompromising portrait of life in all its failures, intricacies, and emotions.