Stettin, 1945. Germans are fleeing east; the city is to become part of Poland. Amid the chaos, Peter, a seven-year-old German boy, is led by his mother Helene to a railway platform, where she abandons him. It's a tour de force of an opening, movingly told from Peter's credulous perspective as he slowly realises that his mother isn't coming back.
By way of explanation, the rest of the novel tells her story. We follow Helene and her sister Martha through provincial Germany to the decadence of Weimar Berlin, where their rich aunt describes their life as a "beautiful soap bubble in our imagination". It's not long before the bubble bursts: Martha slips into morphine addiction, Helene loses her fiancé in a car accident, and the Nazis begin their rise.
Julia Franck's novel, winner of the German Book Prize, is beautifully constructed; by the end, we've come to understand why Helene left her son, if not to forgive her. Franck has a remarkable ability to capture the nuances of human behaviour, and her subtle depiction of Helene's growing coldness, or "blindness", and the wider blindness of a society heading for disaster, is utterly compelling.Reuse content