I am always intrigued to discover the inspirations that lead an author to write a book. It seems there are nearly unlimited sources to draw from – conversations, research, accidental occurrences – but my favorites happen to be personal experiences and family history. When I decided to read The Aftermath I had no idea the author drew on his grandfather’s experiences in war torn Germany after World War II or even the complicated dynamics men like his grandfather faced trying to rebuild this decimated land and its equally affected people while also trying to find justice for the crimes done to those countries tasked with the reconstruction. Amongst other acts of humanitarianism, the author’s grandfather, a British Colonel in charge of reconstructing part of Hamburg, Germany, decided to have the German family whose house was being requisitioned for the Colonel’s family stay and live with them. He refused to find fault with this family simply because they were Germans and this act of kindness opened up the door for the brilliant story that would become The Aftermath.
In 1946 Hamburg, Colonel Lewis Morgan is placed in charge of beginning the process of rebuilding the devastated city as well as the rehabilitation and training of its battered and displaced people. When a beautiful house on the River Elbe is requisitioned for Colonel Morgan and his family – his wife, Rachael, and their son, Edmund – the Colonel makes the radical decision to let the owners of the home – Herr Lubert, architect and widower, and his teenage daughter, Freda – stay and live with them. In the beginning this merging of two opposing worlds is anything but easy. Rachael is still mourning the loss of her eldest son, killed during bombings in England, and fights with her feelings of loss and her strained love for the husband who has become little more than a stranger to her. Herr Lubert is mourning his own loss, that of his wife, as well as the loss of control over most aspects of his life. Freda is angry against these intruders of her country and her home and seeks redemption in dangerous ways. Edmund, young and largely unaware of the hatred and fear of those around him, seeks his parents love and admiration in the wake of his brother lost too soon. And Colonel Morgan, fighting everyday with the ever tipping balance between justice and revenge, must now also find a way to balance his difficult and all consuming job with the needs and responsibilities of his family.
As the families continue to live and interact with each other they will be forced to look beyond their own feelings of prejudice, guilt and sorrow and seek some truce and solace in the new world remaining amongst the rubble. By the end of the bitterest winter on record, each person living at Villa Lubert will have faced their own demons, made mistakes and come out the other side bruised yet sure of the person they want to be and the world they want to live in.
The Aftermath is so beautifully written that at times I found myself reading passages over and over again just to enjoy the lyrical language. The majority of the story is stark and heartbreaking but underlying it all is a feeling of hope for a better future. I had personally never heard of the feral children left homeless and parent-less, just roaming around the city digging for scraps to eat or cigarettes to sell, but these damaged children really helped bring home the idea of the battered and innocent people forced to pay for the evil done by some of their German countrymen. This was a side of history I had never learned before and in the skilled hands of Rhidian Brook it is something I will never forget.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Knopf. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.