Book Review: The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

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The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook
Release Date: 31st July 2014 (Paperback)
Publisher: Penguin
Buy: Paperback  Kindle
Rating:
5 star

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Hamburg, 1946. Thousands remain displaced in what is now the British Occupied Zone. Charged with overseeing the rebuilding of this devastated city and the de-Nazification of its defeated people, Colonel Lewis Morgan has requisitioned a fine house on the banks of the Elbe, where he will be joined by his grieving wife Rachael and only remaining son Edmund.

But rather than force its owners, a German widower and his traumatised daughter, to leave their home, Lewis insists that the two families live together. In this charged and claustrophobic atmosphere all must confront their true selves as enmity and grief give way to passion and betrayal.

The Aftermath is a stunning novel about our fiercest loyalties, our deepest desires and the transforming power of forgiveness.

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 It’s 1946 and whilst the war may have finished, the struggles for the occupants of Germany and England are far from over. Set in post-war Germany, The Aftermath tells the story of Colonel Lewis Morgan, who is positioned over in Hamburg in an attempt to re-build this devastated, war-torn city. After having a house requisitioned from a German family, Colonel Morgan’s wife Rachel and son Edmund are sent over to Hamburg to take up their new life and be a family once again.

However, what Rachel and Edmund aren’t aware of on their arrival is that Lewis has opted to make a very strange decision that none of his fellow officers can quite understand. Instead of evicting the German man and his daughter currently occupying his intended house, Lewis opts to let them share the property and live on the upper floor of the house.
Rachael fails to understand her husband’s compassion, after the death of their son, Michael, who was killed in a bombing and she is still mourning; Rachael is determined to avoid ‘fraternizing’ with the Germans at all costs.
However, the upstairs occupants of the house are having plenty of difficulties of their own. Herr Lubert, whilst grateful for still having a roof over his head, cannot help but resent the situation and it’s clear that his daughter, Frieda is still harbouring a dangerous grudge for her new housemates who she holds solely responsible for the death of her mother after she was killed in a British firestorm air raid.

Whilst I’m not normally a reader of historical novels I was completely captivated by the synopsis for The Aftermath. I have read one or two novels set during war time but felt that this story came from a completely different angle, being set immediately after the war. Other novels I have read have been set in England during these years, but the fact that The Aftermath tells the story of an English family, but over in war-torn Hamburg was really intriguing. Rhidian’s descriptions can’t fail to do the once devastated city justice and I had no difficulty imagining the horrors of what life was like in Germany in 1946. It makes for an eye-opening, horrifically shocking read and one that I won’t forget in a hurry, as Brook brings the chaos, tragedy, pain and suffering of this difficult time to life.

I honestly cannot find fault with this book and believe that everyone should read it as an insight into the aftermath of war. It was just amazing. Not only do I feel as though I learnt a huge deal from this novel, the sub-plots of the characters involved were fantastic. An eclectic and convincing cast, you can’t help but become caught up in their struggles and emotions. Whilst they might not always make the right decisions, I love the effect that their actions have on the impact of their lives, perhaps without them even realising it. I really admired Lewis, he was full of compassion and had no difficulty seeing things from others points of view, however he understandably struggles to show emotion and tends to bottle things up, which at some points looks to be detrimental, especially where his marriage is concerned. I also really liked reading about Ozi, a German orphan who starts off the story and importantly, ends it too.

There are plenty of relevant twists and turns and as the plot unravels you’ll find yourself re-tracing your steps over the story, disbelieving of what has just happened.

There is so much to think about in The Aftermath. I think that, ultimately, one of the messages I got from reading this powerful, emotion provoking book is how there are always two sides to every story. It’s superbly written, and no matter what your age/gender/genre preference I don’t see how you can’t be swept up in this tale of sadness, human resilience, and love.

The Aftermath is a moving, fascinating, brilliantly constructed tale. I will be recommending it to everybody as there’s something here which will appeal to all and I always think that’s a rare, defining quality to a book.

Rhidian Brook has now become a firm favourite of mine and I cannot wait to discover more of his work. I am also thrilled to notice that The Aftermath is being developed as a feature film, throughout reading this novel I couldn’t help but notice what an outstanding film this would surely make. As long as it lives up to the excellence of the book it will be a must-see, just as The Aftermath is a must-read.

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Rhidian Brook (born 1964) is a novelist, screenwriter and broadcaster.

His first novel, The Testimony Of Taliesin Jones (Harper Collins) won three prizes, including the 1997 Somerset Maugham Award, and was made into a film starring Jonathan Pryce. His second novel, Jesus And The Adman (Harper Collins) was published in 1999. His third novel, The Aftermath, was published in April 2013 by Penguin UK, Knopf US and a further 18 publishers around the world. His short stories have been published by The Paris Review, Punch, The New Statesman, Time Out and others; and several were broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Short Story.

His first commission for television – Mr Harvey Lights A Candle – was broadcast in 2005 on BBC1 and starred Timothy Spall. He wrote for the BBC series Silent Witness between 2005-7, and the factual drama Atlantis for BBC1 in 2008. Africa United, his first feature film (Pathe), went on general release in the UK in October 2010. He is adapting The Aftermath as a feature for Scott Free and BBC Film.

He has written articles for papers, including The Observer, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph. In 2005, he presented Nailing The Cross, a documentary for BBC1. In 2006 he broadcast a series In The Blood for BBC World Service, recording his family’s journey through the AIDS pandemic. His book about that journey – More Than Eyes Can See – was published by Marion Boyars in 2007.

He has been a regular contributor to Radio 4’s “Thought For The Day” for more than twelve years.

He lives with his wife and two children in London

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