What’s it about?
In 2013, Thomas Harding returned to his grandmother’s house on the outskirts of Berlin which she had been forced to leave when the Nazis swept to power. What was once her ‘soul place’ now stood empty and derelict. A concrete footpath cut through the garden, marking where the Berlin Wall had stood for nearly three decades.
In a bid to save the house from demolition, Thomas began to unearth the history of the five families who had lived there: a nobleman farmer, a prosperous Jewish family, a renowned Nazi composer, a widow and her children and a Stasi informant. Discovering stories of domestic joy and contentment, of terrible grief and tragedy, and of a hatred handed down through the generations, a history of twentieth century Germany and the story of a nation emerged.
When I was handed this book as our next book club read I had this sinking feeling in my stomach that I was going to be bored to death by it and would neither finish or enjoy it. Well, I did finish it and whilst enjoy is probably not quite the right word, it is very interesting and surprisingly easy book to read. The author has cleverly made it read like a fictional novel rather than a non-fiction text book.
The book follows the house and the its inhabitants through WW1 and WW2, the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall and the separation and reunification of Germany and the lives that these events affect. For me, my take away from this book, the most surprising thing was the systematic presecution of the Jews prior to the start of WW2: I’d thought it all happened at the start of the war but is was so much earlier, some 7 or 8 years earlier which I just found incredulous. I didn’t study history at school past compulsory education and this book is a fascinating read for seeing WW2 from the ordinary German peoples’ perspective.
Not a book I’d ever choose for myself but a perfect read if you’re interested in Germany and German history.
Small print for info
No of pages: 464
Publisher: Windmill Books