The other day I came across an article in The Guardian. It's 25 years in November, since the Berlin Wall came down. How appropriate therefore that I should have seen a chunk of it on my recent expedition to the British Museum. The Guardian was looking for suggestions for book group reading to commemorate this momentous moment in history. There were already several suggestions - how about a Cold War spy story? I was thinking of reading the last in Le Carre's Quest for Karla trilogy. Or perhaps a wartime novel that illustrates the conflict that would split Berlin and Germany into west and east?

Purely by coincidence, I happened to have just started Eliza Graham's novel Restitution. As far as novels go, you couldn't get much better than this to celebrate the downfall of the wall. The novel concerns the Von Matke family. Father is of good Prussian Junker stock, but doesn't like the Nazis, and ends up taking part in the bomb plot to kill Hitler; while Mami is from Meran (Merano), which was part of Austria prior to the change of borders following the First World War.

Alix, their daughter, grows up in a privileged home in Pomerania, but it all comes crashing to an end, when her father is arrested because of the plot, and Alix, her mother, and Lena, the housekeeper and her mother's oldest friend, become trapped in their aristocratic home, with the Russians advancing from the east, and the Nazis refusing to allow them to move west. And then one night Alix unexpectedly meets an old friend. It's a night that will define five lives.

At heart it's a historical romance, with the obligatory (if much delayed) happy ending. Let's get the criticisms out of the way - there are a few too many coincidences, some of the characters' actions don't altogether ring true, and characterisation is occasionally a little sketchy. It's also sometimes a little confusing. The book moves between the viewpoints of many different characters, and also moves backwards and forwards in time, sometimes at a dizzying pace.

However...I really enjoyed it. I started to read it during a sleepless night. Very bad idea - as I was hooked as soon as I'd got a few pages in, and had read 150 pages before it suddenly occurred to me that I should be asleep! It portrays the complexities of the war, and particularly the complexities of being German in a way that I had never read before. As a story, it's incredibly engaging, but it also makes you think. I loved Alix, the heroine, and thought that Gregor, her lover, who is not an entirely likeable character, was very well written. The star turn though had to be the enigmatic Vavilov, and the portrayal of Prussia itself. A country that had been firmly part of Germany, but moved behind the Iron Curtain into Poland after the Second World War. An oddly schizophrenic, haunting country, and this I think was brilliantly conveyed. So well conveyed in fact, that I found myself looking it up on a map, and wanting to travel there.

Never mind the coincidences or the odd sketchiness, this is a cracking good read; and I'd heartily recommend it. Whether you're into historical novels, romance, or a good old thriller this is guaranteed to keep you reading right to the end.


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