In Times of Fading Light by Eugen Ruge (Faber), translated by Anthea Bell. This book won the German Book Prize (before it was translated, naturally), but for some reason missed out on the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist. It is a novel of strands, charting the life of one East German family from the establishment of the German Democratic Republic through to the modern day. We flip backwards and forwards between the generations, starting with the Grandson, Alexander, who is visiting his ailing father Kurt, and then flitting backwards and forwards in time to visit each generation throughout that half century.
What is most interesting about this book is that the moments we experience with these characters are not the pivotal excerpts of their lives, but instead cover rather mundane happenings – an argument over a change of flat, a Christmas supper just like all the rest. The important ‘plot’ moments happen off the page, to characters who are not currently the focus of discussion. For me, this gave a delicious edge to each story; we are treated to a panoramic view of a family being buffeted by winds bigger than they can control.
As someone who’s only cultural connection to the GDR is Goodbye, Lenin, this book was an excellent read. I learnt much, and was able to piece this no longer existing country into the historical jigsaw in my head. But above all this, the book allowed me to feel, keenly, the joys and trials found behind the iron curtain. One to be read, definitely.