“…I feel sympathy: for your own loss, for your dislocation, for the difficulty of living with your former enemy and a husband you hardly ever see. It makes it easier to believe that you are more than just a bitter woman who is full of prejudice. You have your own pain…But there are others like you. Wake up! You are not the only one.” –Stefan Lubert
The Aftermath is book that looks at World War II from an entirely new angle. Beginning in Germany five months after V-E Day, we swirl in the dizzying orbit of Rachael Morgan, wife to Colonel Lewis Morgan, mother to sons Michael (deceased) and Edmund. The Morgans have taken up residence in the grand mansion of architect Stefan Lubert, and his teenage daughter, Freda. Requisitioned by the British army, the mansion’s main living area is now occupied by the Morgans, while the Luberts are resigned to live in an upper apartment. The victors and the conquered must learn to co-habitate. While Colonel Morgan is often empathetic to the plight of the Germans, Rachael is guarded, still strangled by the grief of losing her oldest son.
Rubble is everywhere, both literally and figuratively. Buried bodies are still being dug out from beneath the carcasses of buildings on a daily basis. Buried souls take even more effort to excavate. No matter which side they were on during the fighting, everyone is depleted. They have been conditioned not to think too far into the future. As such, many live in the moment, controlling what they can at the risk of morals, ethics, and personal integrity. Feeding their most basic needs is all that matters, using whatever currency possible.
Eventually the plot splinters into 4 storylines: Rachael and Stefan finding common ground and companionship, Lewis Morgan and his reconstruction efforts, Freda and Albert (her worldly boyfriend,) and Edmund and the “Ferals” (orphaned street children who live by their own set of dystopian rules.)
My tender sensibilities grapple with a book like The Aftermath because of its carnal approach to language and themes, but I appreciate the fact that they are nearly characters unto themselves at a time when nothing in the world makes sense. This is not a book for the faint of heart. Desperate people do not have the luxury of refinement.