On the Other Side, by Mathilde Wolff-Mönckeberg, trs Ruth Evans

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The Independent Culture

Born into a wealthy Hamburg family, Mathilde Wolff-Mönckeberg (1879-1958) worked as a translator and became the mother of five children. This collection of letters contains the unsent correspondence she wrote to her adult children during the war, when they were all living abroad. The letters didn't come to light until 1974, when they were discovered by her daughter, and they show a woman desperate to maintain a link with those she loved but thought she might never see again.

Some extracts are particularly poignant, for instance this from 1942, describing the effect of learning a few details about her family: "Six of my grandchildren I have never seen, isn't that terrible? Yesterday I had a message from E A MacSmith from Geneva about a new grandchild and I behaved quite childishly, sobbed and cried and made myself quite ill with longing."

It's difficult to read what are obviously very personal, private documents, but they contain a kind of truth that can only be read with a strong degree of discomfort. Testimonies like Wolff-Mönckeberg's illustrate why war should always be unthinkable.

Persephonem, £10