Epic ex­ten­sion of wartime suf­fer­ing

King­dom of Twi­light

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - By Steven Uhly (Trans: Jamie Bul­loch) King­dom of Twi­light nführer SS Ober­sturm­banLaura Phillips is a free­lance re­viewer

Ma­cle­hose Press, £20 Re­viewed by Laura Phillips

IT IS 1967 in Lübeck, Ger­many. As one of the lead­ing char­ac­ters in this epic novel en­dures the pangs of child­birth, an un­likely group of her close friends — two Holo­caust sur­vivors and a for­mer Wehrma­cht sol­dier — sup­port each other in the anx­i­ety and hope of the hospi­tal wait­ing room. Later, the young mother, Lisa Kramer, smiles at her baby, Tom, and re­flects:

“Wars end slowly, this war is still in the process of end­ing. When will it be over?”

She won­ders, “whether her son would out­live the war. Or would that only be for her grand­child?”

More than 20 years af­ter the Sec­ond World War ends, Ger­man writer Steven Uhly’s novel’s vic­tims, pro­tag­o­nists and their off­spring can­not es­cape its long shadow. Tom him­self is born of a love that flow­ered de­spite the de­struc­tion, bru­tal­ity and psy­cho­log­i­cal dam­age his par­ents en­dured.

Tom’s fa­ther Shi­mon is an emo­tion­ally tor­tured prod­uct of a war crime. His ma­ter­nal Jewish grand­par­ents per­ished in the H o l o c a u s t . His pa­ter­nal grand­mother was a J e wi s h s l ave t o the Re­ich; his pa­ter­nal grand­fa­ther one of the five SS men who raped her.

His hon­orary great grandma, a non-Jewish Ger­man farmer’s wife, Steven Uhly: heavy on de­tail is the novel’s quiet hero­ine and emo­tional core with­out whose brav­ery, good­ness and un­stint­ing ca­pac­ity for love, Lisa, Shi­mon and Tom would not have been born. is a mas­sive and am­bi­tious ex­am­i­na­tion of the long, tor­tu­ous, and seem­ingly un­end­ing af­ter­math of war. It starts with the as­sas­si­na­tion of a young SS man in 1944 and breaks off in 1977 with the prom­ise of a search for the man who guided his as­sas­sin to her tar­get. It moves be­tween Poland, Ger­many, France, Cyprus, Pales­tine and Is­rael and Amer­ica and tells, in 186 vi­gnettes cin­e­matic in their de­tail, the story of three fam­i­lies whose lives and fates are in­ter­wo­ven. The book wres­tles with ques­tions of guilt, dis­lo­ca­tion, iden­tity, be­long­ing, and the idea and sense of “fam­ily”. It un­cov­ers the se­crets and lies that per­pe­tra­tors and trau­ma­tised vic­tims use to “sur­vive” their sur­vival — and the dam­age that is thus done to them­selves and to suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tions.

It also posits the fa­mil­iar re­demp­tive no­tions that the truth is the only path to healing and that love can help vic­tims sur­vive their trauma.

At times, Steven Uhly’s writ­ing — in Jamie Bul­loch’s trans­la­tion — moves with the pace of a thriller; at oth­ers, it is weighed down by his ap­par­ent in­abil­ity to leave out the small­est of de­tails.

Uhly cre­ates in Marta Kramer a wor­thy hero­ine, whose un­shak­able bond with Lisa and min­is­tra­tions to the trau­ma­tised and vul­ner­a­ble are deeply mov­ing. He also pro­vides a suit­ably vile, chill­ing and even­tu­ally piti­ful study in vil­lainy in

Josef Ranzner. The novel will surely make it to our cin­ema screens some­time soon.

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