Monday, 15 May 2017

The Photographer by Meike Ziervogel

review by Maryom

Based on the story of her grandparents, Meike's Ziervogel's latest novel returns to the scene of her first, Magda - Germany in the 1930s and '40s. This time though the focus is not on the Nazi elite, but on an 'average' couple - Trude and Albert.
They meet in 1933, and, despite Trude's mother's objections, after a whirlwind romance leave Germany to travel round Europe while Albert begins to make his mark as a photographer. With war approaching they return home to Pomerania in the east of Germany, but Albert is soon forced to join the army, and as the war sweeps first east then west, the family is separated by forces beyond their control.
Through this small family of mother, daughter, son-in-law, and grandson, we see the desperate hardships and heart-breaking decisions that faced many German families - to volunteer or try to avoid conscription, to remain in the family home or flee with only the minimum of clothing and mementos; it's a story that in many ways is being echoed today in other parts of the world.
So many war-time 'romances' end with the return of the soldier to a hero's welcome; the Photographer doesn't. Trude and Albert's story continues in the harsh environment of refugee camps, where they have to readjust, learn to love each other again, and Albert particularly has to forget the past few years and rediscover the person he was before. The horrors he's seen are largely unmentioned, but have obviously affected him; as he wanders around, picking up his camera but never ready to commit to actually taking a photograph, there's an almost unbearable sense of a man lost and not able to find his way back to 'normality'.
In length, the story is short - 170 pages - but it's not one to rush. Take your time, because every word counts. Ziervogel's prose is pared back, almost to a minimum, and leaves the reader to put in some effort. At times the motivation behind the characters' actions is left a little 'open', and the reader can maybe choose their own interpretation  - for instance, one may see Trude's mother as an interfering busybody, another as a concerned, patriotic mother. I quite like this in a novel - the story isn't cast in stone, but can be re-interpreted according to my mood or influences outside the book.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing

Genre - Adult historical fiction, WW2, 

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