23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful debut
'The Dark Room' is a beautiful debut. It is captivating, lucid and thought-provoking, without being remotely pretentious. It is a real pleasure to read, whilst at the same time raising disturbing yet fundamental questions regarding national and individual responsibility for World War II.
This is a collection of three fictional stories of young people's experiences of...
Published on 24 Mar 2002 by A. Peel
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An exploration of dislocation.
I approached Ms Seiffert's novel with optimistic anticipation, which if not wholly rewarded was very far from dashed.
This book is a page turner. I read it in a sitting, notwithstanding some of the harrowing material contained within its pages, and found it a first class read. As a debut novel, it is exceptional stuff. If she continues to hone her craft, we can...
Published on 18 Feb 2002 by firstname.lastname@example.org
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful debut,
This review is from: The Dark Room (Paperback)'The Dark Room' is a beautiful debut. It is captivating, lucid and thought-provoking, without being remotely pretentious. It is a real pleasure to read, whilst at the same time raising disturbing yet fundamental questions regarding national and individual responsibility for World War II.
This is a collection of three fictional stories of young people's experiences of the War and its aftermath. The first two portray children who seem far too young and innocent to be responsible for war-time events, and yet who were/are forced to fight for their lives, for survival, whilst also trying to comprend the role of their parents, and those they love, in all the atrocities.
In the second tale, Lore progressively realises that love and innocence do not go hand in hand. She is ultimately obliged to link the imprisonment of her own parents to the guilt of the Nazis. Trust, love and understanding take on a whole new dimension for her, and for us as readers.
Micha, the protagonist of the final story, did not live through World War II. The luxury of a generation gap enables him to actively pursue his obsessive interest in his grand-father's past without pain, until he, like Lore, has to face the music. He has to understand that the grandpa he loved was not perfect. He could easily hate a stranger, but with those dear to us, that hatred and disgust is mixed so strongly with love that we are forced to reassess our emotions and our judgements of others.
This book is one more tribute to the open-mindedness of the German nation. From the outside, at least, the Germans seem to have tried their utmost to take responsibility for the evils they committed in World War II. They aimed to face mistakes and to learn from them. We have not all been so brave and so painfully honest, and the writing of Rachel Seiffert reflects what Germany has learnt in the most positive, yet deceptively simple, way we could hope for.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb,
This review is from: The Dark Room (Paperback)I finished reading this book last night after only a couple of sittings and was almost in a rush to write a review this morning. The story is as dark as the title. Yet it kept me as engrossed as any best selling thriller, without demeaning the importance of what the book is about.
The character of Micha in particular I found most absorbing. His insistence on finding out about the possible guilt of his Grandfather, at the expense of the feelings of his family and impact on his pregnant partner, was a combination of frustrating and commendable. The view that the entire nation was guilty, and in many ways we are still guilty, rang true.
A marvellous read.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The endurance of the human spirit is universal,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Dark Room (Paperback)When a friend recommended this book to me she said it was a page-turner but not enjoyable. I must say I found this to be an accurate assessment of a beautifully written but ultimately disturbing book about Nazi Germany. It has a deceptively simple style and its starkness is wholly appropriate to the subject material. The book is in three distinct parts. The middle section is a harrowing read which I found profoundly moving. The vivid images haunted me long after I had finished this book and I commend it to anyone interested in the ravages of war from ‘the other side’. Pain, degradation, misery, shame, outrage, cruelty, moral blindness, courage – all these are universal. And universal is the endurance of the human spirit with its capacity for transcending all adversity.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How war touches 'little' people,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Dark Room (Hardcover)...I don't think that the atrocities of war are absent at all in this book - as far as I see it the whole point of these three stories is to show how the war touched the lives of so many 'little' people. Seiffert may not have decribed the fighting and killing in great detail, but surely that is not the point of her novel. Helmut's life (the first story) is tragically affected by the war, but at the same time the events in Berlin give him a purpose as he gains an interest in photography. We see the war through his eyes - the Berliners deserting their capital, the feelings of guilt that he has because he isn't fighting at the front, his growing interest in photographing people. It may sound naive in places, but Helmut strikes me as being a bit of a simple lad, and indeed, the whole point is that this is the war as seen by him. Indeed, the war gives him an identity - he changes from a deformed boy to a strong man with his own career and skills, no longer mollycoddled by his parents.
Just to emphasise, in the second story, I think the point is that the war is conveyed through the children's eyes; this may therefore be construed as a naive view, but this is deliberate. They don't understand what is really happening, or why their father is in prison, or their mother has deserted them, but they know things are bad and they really do suffer. Seiffert's skill is to show their suffering on a small scale. This is how the war affected one family, in particular one girl, it happens over a short period of time - it's not meant to be a potted history of the Second World War.
In the third story Michael is struggling to come to terms with his grandfather's role as an SS officer in Belaruse. There are graphic descriptions of people being shot and killed, and this is enough to evoke the sense of violence, horror and war, but again on a different level.
I think that Seiffert's understanding of the effect of war on the lives of ordinary people is very profound, touching and emotional. This is powerful stuff. She uses some very moving imagery, and although she might not discuss things in a broader sense, and the tone is quite desensitised, this is not the point of the novel, and what she does achieve is a moving portrait of 'smaller' lives and events which are touched by the horror of war.
I highly recommend this book and commend Rachel Seiffert on her achievement.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark Lives,
This review is from: The Dark Room (Paperback)There have been many narratives which deal with the world's reaction to the atrocities caused by the Nazis, but few have dealt so directly with how Germans feel about inheriting the knowledge of these crimes. Does sharing a national identity with people who have committed such crimes make you a criminal as well? This is the issue that Rachel Seiffert follows with such tenacity in her incredible first novel. The question is beautifully threaded throughout the three narratives of Germans at different points in the century. The final narrative of Micha's digs the deepest into the problem. The three central characters are connected to the Nazi warfare and are trying to understand if their relation to it is something integrally related to themselves. What emerges is a well-rounded picture of the difficulty of living with the fact of this history and trying to peacefully make it a part of your identity.
Yet, this novel isn't a meditation only for Germans to deal with their own history. (After all, who doesn't belong to a nation that has committed governmentally enforced crimes against a group of people?) It makes an important statement about World War II but also one about the human condition and our relation to the past. The human relationships are tenderly drawn. All the characters are intensely selfish in their own way, but have encountered numerous difficulties in their lives which have moderated the way they relate to people. The book moves much more slowly at the end and becomes very meditative. At times this becomes more tedious than insightful. However, the final picture is a complicated portrait of national guilt wrapped with small examples of human kindness and forgiveness.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More deserving of hype than "the Reader",
This review is from: The Dark Room (Paperback)I approached this book warily: I was very disappointed by Bernhard Schlink's much-hyped The Reader, which I found too cold and oblique to make any sort of impact. Also, I did wonder if this subject matter had to some extent been exhausted by others.
The experience of my own (German) mother was similar to that of the girl Lore in the second section (although her father wasn't a Nazi..) and I found it extremely moving. With the lightest of touches - appropriate to the import of the material - this section has a real cumulative punch. I found this section and the third full of characters and situations that I recognised with chilling resonance .. the bleak, terse descriptions of post-reconstruction Germany are very telling.
I don't see the relevance of the "is it a novel?" debate, but I am glad it made the Booker shortlist or I probably wouldn't have read it. I still think David Mitchell should have won though!
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An exploration of dislocation.,
This review is from: The Dark Room (Paperback)I approached Ms Seiffert's novel with optimistic anticipation, which if not wholly rewarded was very far from dashed.
This book is a page turner. I read it in a sitting, notwithstanding some of the harrowing material contained within its pages, and found it a first class read. As a debut novel, it is exceptional stuff. If she continues to hone her craft, we can expect great things from Ms Seiffert.
Firstly, is it a novel? Yes - I think it is - just. However, in presenting the stories as three discrete events Ms Seiffert fails to do full justice to her theme, and as a result it never quite becomes a continuous whole. Had she chosen to tell the stories side by side, rather than in succession, though it would undoubtedly have been a more difficult read, the theme would, I think, have been considerably clearer.
Secondly, does it trivialise horrendous events? No it doesn't, for surely one of the most horrendous aspects of the genocide is the fact that it was perpetrated by very ordinary people. People who had families and friends whom they loved, for whom they cared. People who for all their goodness, for all their 'ordinariness' were capable of committing and/or bearing silent witness to unspeakable crimes. People like us.
Thirdly, is it about marginalisation, luck and accidents of birth? Well, yes - but I think that is to simplify it. Certainly Helmut is marginalised because of his disability; certainly there is a good deal of luck for Lorne and her surviving siblings in their tortuous journey across vanquished Germany; and certainly are we not all merely accidents of birth? Might it not equally be argued that this is a novel about timing? If Helmut had been born fifty years later his disability might have been resolved; if Micha had been born 50 years earlier he too might have been proud to wear the uniform of the Waffen SS; and Mina, what of Mina, she of Turkish parents, what if Mina had been born 50 years earlier? For as her father observes 'I am Turkish: that doesn't change. Germany is racist: that doesn't change. .... Micha, my son, this is a good and a bad country we live in.' (p.235)
And there it is - the heart of this novel, for The Dark Room is about dislocations. It's about how great goodness and great evil can find expression from within the same vessel, and how we struggle to rationalise that dislocation. Thus Helmut's mutti and papi wrestle (unsuccessfully as it turns out) with the love they feel for their son, whilst loathing his increasingly obvious disability. Thus Lore plays out her doubts and fears about the parents from whom she has known only love, in her relationship with Thomas. Itinerant Thomas, without whom she and her siblings would almost certainly have died. Thomas, whom she slowly comes to trust and care for, but who she understands in some half-formed way might not, in another time, another place, be the Saviour he appears to be. And Micha, who most clearly presents us with the internal struggle to rationalise his personal experience of the goodness of his beloved Opa, and his knowledge that this same man was capable of unspeakable evil.
Here in the (arguably) civilised western democracy known as the United Kingdom we have not been presented with these dilemmas for hundreds of years, at least not in such a stark, immediate and personal way..but in another time, another place, in a democratically elected State was the deliberate and planned genocide of Jews, gipsies and other 'deviants'. Few of us are given the vision and even less of us the courage to distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil, indeed it is only our concept of good which enables us to identify evil, our concept of right which enables us to identify wrong. Ms Seiffert invites us to examine these great and sobering truths. To ask ourselves - 'What would I have done?' 'How would I feel?'. In Yad Veshem in Israel there is Garden of Remembrance for the Righteous Gentiles. It's not very full.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an amazing book!,
This review is from: The Dark Room (Paperback)Reading The Dark Room was an experience I haven't had in a long time. I am the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. Of course I have always been aware of the fact Germans suffered too, but it has never occurred to me to explore the nature of their suffering; what it's like to be an innocent German child; what it's like to be the child born to war criminals. The Dark Room is more than just evidence of all of that. It's a humane book, which one cannot but follow with pain and horror, it holds you in its grips, twists your heart and shakes you with mercy and fear: a true catharsis, which doesn't cleanse, but makes you feel you are a better human being, if you belong to the human race.
True, it's people who made Auswitz. But it's people who created remorse, guilt and mercy, and deals with them in an artistic way, such as the The Dark Room has.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thoughtful & powerful novel,
This review is from: The Dark Room (Paperback)I've owned this book since either 2002 or 2003, and tried to read it twice, never managing to read more than about 15 pages. Something made me keep it, however - perhaps it was the haunting real life photo on the cover. Anyway, serendipity struck yesterday. I picked it up, started reading, was sucked in and read more than 200 pages in one sitting. I finished it this evening in about an hour. This is an extraordinary book, broken into three tales, all of ordinary Germans, the first two of which are set during or just after the war and the last of which is set in 1990s Germany. All three stories are about what it might have been like to live during that time, as a child, an adult and as a serving Waffen SS soldier.
Seiffert's sparse prose initially seems artificial, exaggerated, but as I read on it became richer and deeper, searching out the emotions of shame, guilt, denial and anger, mostly on the part of innocent Germans who had nothing to do with the terrible things done by the Nazis. Ultimately, this is a moving and thoughtful novel. I hesitate to say that I enjoyed it: the subject matter makes that very hard. However, I certainly savoured the book, and I recommend it highly.
Ben Kane, author of Spartacus: The Gladiator.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Dark Time,
This review is from: The Dark Room (Paperback)This is an unusual and unsettling book. Its subject is civilian experience during the second world war - so far, so ordinary. But its focus is the experience of Germans - Germans caught up in Naziism.
The novel is comprised of three separate novellas following three different German individuals. The first is about Helmut, a young man born with a disability that causes abnormality of one arm. Helmut would have liked to fight for his country but was turned down. Instead, he starts working in a photography shop and photography becomes his passion. He pours all his energy and his into his pursuit. At the end, the inferiority complex that has plagued him is channelled into the strength that inadequate people derive from power.
The second story is about Lore, a twelve year-old girl who has four siblings. Her father is fighting for the Nazis and the rest of the family hide out in a shed near a farm. But soon the Americans come for her mother, and Lore has to lead her siblings to safety at her grandmother's house across the country. She meets a fellow traveller and her feelings for him are complex.
The third story is about Micha, a young teacher living in contemporary Germany at the end of the twentieth century. His memories of his dead grandfather are of a loving, warm man who adored him. But he needs to find out what his grandfather did during the war. This need becomes a compulsion and obsession that drives his Turkish wife to distraction.
Seiffert writes starkly and simply with sparse, almost naked prose. The starkness outlines the deeds described - no flowery language is required. The read is uncomfortable, but then war is not a pretty subject. As an attempted insight into the minds of those living during the atrocities of WW2, it goes some way to explaining the way non-Jewish German civilians floated through events, not protesting, keeping their heads down. But I don't feel Seiffert goes far enough. None of the characters in the first two stories - the ones actually living during the war - show any awareness of what is happening while it is happening. Lore is shown to see pictures of the corpses of annihilated Jews once the concentration camps have been liberated, and she - like the others around her - supposedly had no knowledge of what had gone on. But to me, this is a cop out. Most Germans will have been aware of the barbarous anti-Semitic crimes committed against the Jews before they were taken away to the concentration camps. There must have been widespread suspicion of their fate or probable fate - yet this is not tackled in the book. More could have been written of what Helmut and his parents and acquaintances felt, and of Lore's mother's views. In this respect, the spare prose is too sparse with the truth. Micha, the protagonist of the last story set in 1998, is the only one who examines the horrors of the Nazi actions, and his angst and revulsion is palpable.
Shortlisted for The Booker in 2001, this book covers the other side of history - the side that is never discussed. It is a brave and strong attempt to dissect the inexplicable and explain the dark side of human nature.
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The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert (Paperback - 7 Feb 2002)