“Never again war.”

Protest in Krefeld against the austerities of Hungerwinter, March 1946: “We want COAL, we want BREAD.”

The Aftermath
by Rhidian Brook.
Penguin Books 2014 (2013).

“On the night of 29 July 1943, 370 persons perished in the air-raid shelter on the Hamburgerstrasse in a bombing raid. Remember these dead. Never again fascism. Never again war.”

Memorial to the victims of the Hamburg bombings, Hamburger Strasse

Hamburg, 1946. Colonel Lewis Morgan is allocated a villa, requisitioned from a local family as part of the denazification process in the British sector of postwar Germany. By the time Lewis’s wife Rachael and surviving son Edmund arrive to take up residence they discover that the colonel, instead of insisting that the widowed German architect and his daughter remove themselves, has allowed them to share the capacious house and its associated grounds with his own family.

Not for nothing is this novel entitled The Aftermath. The port of Hamburg, its factories, refineries and workers in 1943 were targeted under a total war strategy; it resulted in a devastating firestorm at the end of July which killed tens of thousands, one which would now be classified as a war crime. A year after the war ends how can the city be rebuilt amongst the ruins? How will people survive during the extreme cold of the Hungerwinter of 1946-7? And how will occupiers and occupied get on with each other when sharing accommodation?

Rhidian Brook’s novel builds on his own family’s memories as well as the realities of Hamburg’s occupation, melding fiction with history and individual lives with a bigger picture. Bitterness struggles with forgiveness as a lingering antagonism adapts to fraternisation, and we watch as the lives of army personnel, British civilians, shadowy individuals and feral children interact in Brook’s taut story.

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