Restitution by Eliza Graham

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Restitution by Eliza Graham

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A multi-layererd story stretching across decades and countries. It took me a little time to fully appreciate the changes in the decades but once I did they added greatly to the story. Recommended
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: May 2009
Publisher: Pan
ISBN: 978-0230741881

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Just outside a small town in Pomerania in eastern Germany in February 1945 Alix von Matke attempted to flee in front of the approaching Soviet army. The weather was against her and a bombing raid forced her to return to her ancestral home. Pappi - her father - was part of the failed plot to kill Hitler and his whereabouts were unknown, but unlikely to be comfortable. Her mother, a famed and beautiful actress, tried to find him but she was also forced back to the house. Trapped by a snowstorm with visitors both wanted and unwanted, the consequences of that night would reverberate into the next century.

I first encountered Eliza Graham's writing in her debut novel Playing With The Moon and was impressed by the way in which she produced such a strong story in a relatively short novel with so little in the way of literary artifice. The themes of coming to terms with the past and revisiting old haunts are repeated in Restitution, but this book is altogether more complex and there's a darker tone to the story.

Essentially the story is about what happened in the Second World War to people who used to live in Austria but then found themselves part of Italy, to people who were part Jewish but had no particular religious belief, to a German who finds himself in Poland and then fighting for the Soviet army against his own people. It's about refugees – the daughter of a count who finds herself with nothing, the pianist who wanders Russia and Eastern Europe and all the millions of people displaced by the war. The depth of research is obvious and there's a real sense of the devastation which the war brought.

Woven around and through this story about the war are flashes forward and back – to the Home Counties and Germany in the early part of the twenty-first century, to Austria in the nineteen twenties. It took me a little time to come to terms with this, particularly with the changes of characters, the different names for the same characters or locations known by different names. It illustrates well the confusion prevalent in this Eastern Europe at the time and once I'd mastered the who's who the technique ceased to break up the plot and helped to build the story.

'Restitution' is a strange concept. It's about the giving up of gains to the victims of your actions, about trying to put people back in their original position but there are some losses for which restitution can never be made. Property and material possessions are relatively simple, but the death of family and friends, the destruction of a way of life, the loss of expectations and the feeling of certainty about the future can never be restored. Restitution is a fine story about how people will fight to rebuild their lives in the most dreadful circumstances, about how love and hope will survive. It's a story which covers most of Europe, told on a personal basis.

I'd like to thank Eliza Graham for sending a review copy to The Bookbag.

For more about the war in the UK we can recommend Muddy Boots and Silk Stockings by Julia Stoneham and All The Nice Girls by Joan Bakewell. Going back to the First World War we were impressed by The Harrowing by Robert Dinsdale.

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