Many of us tend to assume that we know quite a bit of history when it comes to World War II, its aftermath, and the facts surrounding what happened: who was on which side; who attacked who, when and why; how many died in The Holocaust, the labour camps, the gas chambers and the death marches. I had never heard of Danube Swabians or Yugoslavia’s ethnic Germans, although I’d heard the name Tito before and probably knew that he wasn’t one of the good guys.
So when I started taking Marie Kohler’s journey with her, I really had no idea which direction it was going in. The story starts with Marie heading away from her marriage, realising that it’s reached its end. In fact, she’s on her way to meet with someone who she’s already having a relationship with. Little does she know what that relationship is going to expose about her family history.
Marie is at a stage of her life that I’d call ‘tenuous’. Her grandfather has just passed away and her beloved grandmother is in the grip of Alzheimer’s so is also largely lost to her. These are the closest two people in her life, having brought Marie up and playing a vital role in her formative years. It makes her realise that she needs to find out more about her roots as when you know where you’ve come from, you have a clearer vision of where you’re going.
She’s horrified to discover that her grandparents fled to America as a result of the genocide of ethnic Germans in Yugoslavia by Tito’s Partisan Regime in the aftermath of World War II. She can’t understand how she didn’t know this – these people brought her up; she lived with them!! Together with her new partner, she undertakes to discover a past that she didn’t even know existed and it brings into question everything she thought she knew about her life.
Written against a backdrop of horrific historical drama, this is a hard-hitting debut. It alternates between the present and Marie’s own personal conflict, together with her emotional reconciliation with what she uncovers on her journey of discovery, and the late 1940’s and the devastating occurrences that many endeavoured to keep secret for as long as possible.
There is a definite sense of melancholy that threads itself throughout the book, hanging like a dense cloud over the entire story, and each new revelation. But together with this, and the feeling of sadness and loss, is the eventual glimmer of hope that comes from searching for something and finding it, even if it was most certainly not what you were expecting. For in that discovery, is the ability to lay old ghosts to rest, and allow light to shine in places where only darkness previously lurked.
Alexandra Ford was born near Philadelphia. She earned her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and her BA from Virginia Tech. Her writing appears in The Rumpus and No Tokens Journal, among others. She lives on a smallholding on the border between England and Wales. Her first novel What Remains at the End is available now.
Many thanks to Kelly Lacey at Love Book Tours for inviting me along on this intriguing blog tour.