The Blind Side of the Heart, by Julia Franck trs Anthea Bell

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Julia Franck's novel opens with an unforgettable sequence. Amid the chaos of the German withdrawal from Stettin in 1945, Peter, a seven-year-old boy, clings to his mother, Helene, while they are carried along by the crowd at the railway station. She sits him down on the platform with a reassuring smile – and then abandons him.

The rest of the book tells Helene's story: we learn of her roots in provincial Germany and follow her progress to Weimar Berlin.

Franck's delicately wrought narrative conflates personal and political disasters; her guiding theme is the growing callousness or "blindness" of German society in those dark interwar years.

There is a brilliant scene in which Helene and her fiancé, Carl, attend a production of The Threepenny Opera, and he is swept up in the wild enthusiasm of the crowd. Helene is disquieted: "I just don't want you to be blind," she tells him. Given what we know of her own future coldness, and the disaster to which their country is heading, it is an almost unbearably poignant moment.

And the result is a rich, affecting novel.