I’m familiar with Isherwood’s pre-war Berlin and the City during the war through Hans Fallada’s magnificent “Alone In Berlin”, but London-born Litivnoff has opened my eyes to the post-war years of the mid 50’s when a paranoid and guilt-ridden Germany was attempting to piece the country together.
This is a novel about restitution and identity. Martin Stone, formerly Silberstein, arrives in Berlin from the England he escaped to as a boy. He is seeking financial reparation for the Nazi’s treatment of his family. The Jews he encounters are unsurprisingly hostile towards the German nation but choosing to stay there for a variety of reasons. There are some deep moral issues within their choices. Martin meets up again with Hugo Krantz, a pre-war theatrical star, also an ex-London refugee, who is seeking a man he loved who joined the Nazis and betrayed and tortured him. How much of the past can be forgotten and how is it possible to move on? Martin finds himself attracted to Karin, a German factory worker residing in East Berlin, but is it love or the need to reassert his identity? Berlin has retained some of its pre-war seedy glamour. It can be a place where anything goes, but with continual looks over the shoulder. No-one is sure who to trust and that paranoia comes across well to make a tense, gripping read. Everyone has been unspeakably damaged yet still the pulse of the city lures them in.
Litvinoff’s debut novel was originally published in 1958 and was a real treat for me to discover. I was fascinated by the characters and their dilemmas and I found the issues raised stimulating. I would like to discuss this book with a book group for as well as being an accessible read there is a lot going on under the surface.
Occasionally Litvinoff is guilty of over-florid language and melodrama in the unfolding of the plot but this is still some achievement and has been the book I have enjoyed most to date in Apollo’s surprisingly wide-ranging series of eight of “the best books you’ve never read.”
The Lost Europeans was republished by Apollo in 2016