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It's 1946, Germany is in ruins, the people are starving and the country is occupied by allied troops. Rachel Morgan, still grieving for her elder son, killed by a stray bomb, arrives in Hamburg with her younger son to rejoin her husband, a British colonel in charge of the regeneration of the area. They have been allocated a requisitioned house and she discovers to her dismay that her husband has agreed to allow the German owners, the Lauberts, to continue living there in the upstairs staff flat. The true strengths of this book are the pictures it draws of the period, the hardships suffered by the populace and the almost impossible task men like Lewis Morgan had in trying to make things better. I already knew a certain amount about the Army of Occupation - both my parents were in Germany then (married to others) and my mother told me quite a lot about it but this was a real eye opener. Some parts of the story line are a bit clichéd, especially the mirror imaging of loss, The Morgan's have lost a son, the Lauberts a wife and mother who died in the firestorm of Hamburg. In both cases it's the women, Rachel and Frieda Laubert, aged 15, who don't try to forgive and accept, and the men, are the ones making contact with the other side. That apart I thoroughly enjoyed it, it's not perfect but it's one of those books whivh is going to stay with me for a very lng time. Reccommended. I did find this book a little slow at the beginning - literally. I loved the prose from the start but was always surprised at how little I'd read.
A friend of mine read this and enjoyed it, so I decided to read it. I liked the same things she liked and was put off by the same things that put her off. The book tells the story of the rebuilding of Hamburg after WWII. An officer in the British Army, Lewis Morgan, in charge of rebuilding Hamburg is billeted in a tremendous mansion on the River Elbe. He is permitted to kick out the owner and his daughter, who are living there (his wife has been killed in a British bombing raid on Hamburg), but decides not to do it. It's an enormous house and they can live in the servants quarters while he and his wife and surviving child (one son was killed by a German bombing raid) can live in the main part of the house. Their servants can stay, too. Lewis's efforts are extremely nice--the family would have had to live homelessly or in refugee camps and the servants might have lost their jobs, too. No one thinks Lewis should do this for the family. The father of the German family, Stefan Lubert, recognizes that he is being treated as kindly as circumstances permit, but his 15-year-old daughter doesn't quite see it that way, holding on to her hatred of the British. You can imagine that this sets up all sorts of tensions in the household and where they lead and don't lead. This was interesting and somewhat engaging, given my very limited tolerance for love stories. For the most part, it's well-handled, but there's a bit too much coincidence to keep me happy. What was fascinating was the glimpse into what it was really like. The city was just destroyed in parts. I always marvel at how cities that are bombed recover as quickly as they do. Stefan is an architect and his description of what he sees in the future for his city is very engaging. I imagine that something like what he wanted to do is what actually happened and someone had to do that. Very interesting. But the lives before all this rebuilding are so very grim. People starve to death. The coldest winter on record adds to the misery. So many people are displaced that there are groups of people wearing signs with pictures hoping to reconnect with lost loved ones and a whole wall where these signs are posted. I remember that something like that happened on a much smaller scale after the September 11 attacks. There are roving bands of children who are orphaned and do everything they can to eat and find shelter. That reminded me of The Painted Bird, a book I would rather not be reminded of reading. And finally, individual Germans had to be determined to be "white, grey, or black" depending on their involvement with the Nazi party. I hadn't realized that had happened, but of course it did. The uniformed comments of the British about the people they meet in Hamburg, judging them for the accommodations they had to make to a totalitarian system, were probably what everyone thought, Lewis excepted. He and his son, and eventually his wife, have to struggle to rid themselves of their preconceived notions so that they can interact with the Germans they encounter on a daily basis as fellow human beings. I particularly liked the efforts of Lewis's son, Ed and how he tries to make sense of what he encounters.