Winner of the Historical Writers’ Association Debut Crown Award 2015
The war is over, but Berlin is a desolate sea of rubble. There is a shortage of everything: Food, clothing, tobacco. The local population is scrabbling to get by. Kasper Meier is one of these Germans, and his solution is to trade on the black market to feed himself and his elderly father. He can find anything that people need, for the right price. Even other people.
When a young woman, Eva, arrives at Kasper's door seeking the whereabouts of a British pilot, he feels a reluctant sympathy for her but won't interfere in military affairs. But Eva is prepared for this. Kasper has secrets, she knows them, and she'll use them to get what she wants. As the threats against him mount, Kasper is drawn into a world of intrigue he could never have anticipated. Why is Eva so insistent that he find the pilot? Who is the shadowy Frau Beckmann and what is her hold over Eva?
Under constant surveillance, Kasper navigates the dangerous streets and secrets of a city still reeling from the horrors of war and defeat. As a net of deceit, lies, and betrayal falls around him, Kasper begins to understand that the seemingly random killings of members of the occupying forces are connected to his own situation. He must work out who is behind Eva's demands, and why - while at the same time trying to save himself, his father, and Eva.
A story providing a historical insight into conditions in Berlin after WW2, however after such a contorted plot the end seemed rather tame.
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It took me a while to get into Fergusson's work, because I kept on being pulled out by Fallada's Alone In Berlin, which is probably a superior read, but I can't quite say why. The themes in common are obvious, but even some motifs (the notes posted anonymously) were striking.
Maybe, Fergusson, although he writes very fluently and even poetically in parts, is too cinematographic in his style - if that can be a fault these days.... I kept on seeing him direct the movie of the novel.
It is not easy to be original about post-war Berlin, especially not for they, like myself, who also have just read Beevor on the subject. So there was nothing in this novel to surprise or engage me afresh.
I never quite knew whether to like or dislike Kaspar (so I picture a Max von Sydow playing his part), and to be honest had trouble in the first half grasping that he really was going to be the main character in the novel, and it was all and only really going to be a portrait of a gay guy in the late forties where fascist ideas still rule. The plot with the girl almost felt incidental, possibly because it was too cleverly buried in the realistic setting of the place and time. The flirtation with sexual ambiguity was uncalled for and felt, again, like another typical Hollywood teaser.
In short, it is a bit of a thriller but it means to read like a biographical account. I suppose this is to imitate life all the better but I can't say it got me involved any better.
It is perfectly narrated, once you get into the (again typical early-days Hollywood) choice to narrate the German characters with German accents. Why that was done, is a little odd, since it's all set in Germany, with Germans as main protagonists, with a few Brits dotted about and a Russian popping up, every now and then, but I get how alternatives could also have been less than successful.