The Aftermath: An Engrossing Post World War II Novel
Two Different Families
The book contrasts two families: one British and one German. Both are thrown into the same household during the reconstruction because the British Officer cannot find it within himself to kick the owner and his daughter out on the street.
Post World War II Setting for The Aftermath
I am a fan of historical fiction. I like to find books written in uncommon places and time periods. While there are many novels set during World War II, The Aftermath is the first one I've read set in the period right after the war.
Though this is fiction, the basis of the story is from the author's grandfather's own experiences in Germany after the war. He found himself in a similar situation as the characters in this book. The author took those experiences and crafted a novel around them.
You could say there is a little bit of truth to this tale. It would seem an absurd premise if the reader didn't know that background.
Most of the Plot Takes Place Here
The setting for this novel is the reconstruction of Germany. The British have set up shop in their sector and are sending their best and brightest to help rebuild the country. In doing so, they're taking over many of the better houses that survived bombing and displaced the families who live in them.
Historically, the city of Hamburg was a prime target for the allies during the war. The city and its port were bombed repeatedly. In July of 1943, a firestorm swept up out of those bombings. Many perished. What the allies hadn't destroyed, the fire finished off.
After the war, this region was known as the British Zone of Occupation. In 1949, it became part of the new country, the Federal Republic of Germany also known as West Germany.
What the Plot Consists Of
I don't think I've really thought much about what a challenge it must have been to rebuild a country the size of Germany. There were so many buildings destroyed, so much infrastructure wiped out, so many families left homeless, there were orphans living in the streets, and there was very little work to be found. That is how we find our British officer, Colonel Lewis Morgan, as he prepares to take over his German requisitioned house. Colonel Morgan can't seem to find it within himself to kick out the owner, Stefan Lubert, and his daughter. Without informing his wife and son who are on the way, he has arranged for them to live upstairs while his family takes over the rest of the house.
This seems a fine noble gesture. However, Colonel Morgan has not accounted for an important fact. His work will take him from the home every day. Meanwhile, his wife and son must learn to coexist with the Lubert's without his help. Although the war has been over for a year, it's simply not long enough for some emotional scars to heal. It's not easy to let go of hatred once a war has ending and the lines are redrawn. This makes for a tense situation which the Colonel doesn't fully appreciate or understand.
My Opinion of This Novel
The characters are well constructed. They seem real and you can sense the animosity that each might have felt being stuck in this situation. The conflicts don't seem contrive but drawn from the realities of a post war Europe. Trying to live a normal life when nothing is normal is difficult indeed.
The author does an excellent job telling the story from different perspectives. We see from the eyes of the adults and children living in the house and from some of the outsiders within the community.
I think the reason this novel works so well is that it based on real events. Though the characters and situations come from the author's imagination, they are based on his grandfather's experiences as a British officer involved in the reconstruction of Germany. His grandfather found himself in the same situation as the main character of the Aftermath, and he did the unheard of. He allowed the German family to live in the house with him. The author must have spent many hours hearing stories from this period because he has reconstructed it very well.
The Aftermath is a moving tale set in an unsettling era, the period of reconstruction of Germany. The story is based on the author's grandfather's own experiences, though the characters and situations are purely fictional.
Returning From The War
If you are interested in this time period, you might also enjoy the movie "The Best Years of Our Lives". It won several Academy Awards for its portrayal of the story of three American soldiers returning home from the war. Instead of showering them with fairy tale happy endings, this movie showed the hard reality of dealing with injuries, PTSD, and assimilating back into civilian life after being on the battlefield.
The movie follows three men as they try to make sense of life after the war. It was directed by William Wyler and stars Frederic March, Dana Andrews, and Harold Russell.
© 2014 Melody Lassalle