This is the first time in while writing my review, I downgraded my star rating. On reflection, there was much that was difficult with this book, which is a shame, because it opened with such promise.
Gerta by Kateřina Tučková
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book had me really conflicted. There were times when I felt it was bordering on brilliant, and times when it was infuriating, and then there were the times when the narrative deteriorated into information dumps that were neither necessary nor interesting with the end result that I skimmed through much of it.
The book deals with the difficult and terrible aftermath of the second world war for a woman who found herself a national of the losing side – being half-German, even though her mother was Czech. It begins with her being forcibly marched out of her hometown, and we see, through her eyes, the atrocities being casually perpetrated against the predominantly female expellees. Rape, violence, sickness and death fill the early pages.
The power of the opening was lost, however, when there was too much divergence away from Gerta’s point of view. The book should have been Gerta’s story, yet, at times, a chapter gave us the point of view of another character, one who, sometimes, it was difficult to remember who they were, let alone their place within the narrative overall. It was almost as if the author wanted to resolve every story, and, particularly in the context of a post-war world where people sometimes did simply disappear, not every story should have been resolved.
One example was where an elderly Gerta takes herself off for tea with one of her friends from her past – that entire chapter is devoted to an information dump about what happened to her, when, by that point in time, I simply no longer cared.
The worst thing about this book is the last sentence. It suggests futility and pointlessness. Much of the narrative of this book probably falls into this category. The book was expansive, but not in a good way. The image that comes to mind is that of an overfat belly spilling out over the top of a too-tight belt. This book could have done with a serious edit so that the power of Gerta’ story – and it is a powerful story – does not get lost in the miscellany of every other minor character we come across in the book.
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