West of the Wall by Marcia Preston
|West of the Wall by Marcia Preston|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Linda Rutledge|
|Summary: This is a great read which left me thinking about the story for days after having finished it. It will, at times, bring tears to the eyes of any mother.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 384||Date: June 2008|
I love reading a book that makes me want to find out more about a time and a place – and this is such a book. It's a story of a city divided in two by the building of a wall that physically separated families and friends: an account of the suffering and despair of East Berliners under strict communist occupation and the desperate choices one woman had to make.
Set initially in the early 1960's we are introduced to Trudy and Rolf Hulst. Following the building of the Berlin Wall young Rolf becomes a political dissident running an underground organisation helping people to escape to the West. Eventually his organisation is identified and he too has to flee. Trudy is left living with her aging mother-in-law to bring up a small baby, Stefan, not knowing whether Rolf made it safely to the west.
Life is grey and harsh in Communist East Berlin and Marcia Preston effectively draws the reader into the drudgery of Trudy's daily routines. Soon she learns through an old friend, Wolfgang Kruger, that, as the wife of a defector, she is in danger of being brought in for questioning by the Stasi. Faced with possible imprisonment, torture or worse Trudy reluctantly takes up an offer of help to escape to the west. Tragically she is unable to take Stefan with her – a heart-wrenching decision for any woman.
Having survived the terrifying ordeal of her escape, Trudy learns the fate of her husband and sets about trying to find a way to be reunited with Stefan and her mother in law.
The reader is then presented with a sequence of events which somewhat tests the bounds of credibility but nevertheless still provides an enjoyable read. President J F Kennedy visits to deliver his now famous Ich bin ein Berliner speech. Believing Kennedy is committed to helping Berliners Trudy more or less throws herself at his cavalcade and is helped up off the road by Garret Thompson, a presidential aid. After hearing her story he arranges for Trudy to travel to America to publicise her plight. He suggests that with the sympathy of the American people on her side the East Berlin authorities would allow Stefan and his grandmother safe passage to the west. Of course all this is not without a price and Garret Thompson is exploiting her for his own political ambitions.
Having become immersed in the harshness of daily living in East Berlin in the 1960's and the contrast of East and West Berlin, although the latter was by no means an affluent society, I found the chain of events leading to Trudy's move to America, and indeed while in America, somewhat unbelievable and in some ways incongruous with the rest of the story. The only thing that kept this part of the story going for me was Trudy's feeling of being an outsider, her loneliness and steely determination to undertake anything that might reunite her family.
This is certainly a book with some strong and vivid characters. There's a stark contrast between childhood friends Wolfgang Kruger and Rolf Hulst, with Hulst putting his family at risk whilst Kruger risks his own career in seeking their safety. Kruger's character develops well over the course of the story. Trudy is a wonderfully strong heroine and it was easy to sympathise with her plight when she was faced with the choice of almost certain imprisonment or fleeing to the West, particularly when she has to leave her son with his increasingly frail grandmother.
With a writing style which is both eloquent and passionate, Marcia Preston brings to life the bleakness and cheerlessness that marked the lives of ordinary people living in East Berlin at that time. It is a heart-wrenching story that had me rooting for Trudy right from the start and left me wanting to know more about the politics of the cold war period of which the Berlin Wall was so symbolic.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
If this book appeals to you then we think that you might also enjoy The Foreign Correspondent by Alan Furst.
You can read more book reviews or buy West of the Wall by Marcia Preston at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy West of the Wall by Marcia Preston at Amazon.com.
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