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Thursday, October 10, 2019

Review: Confession with Blue Horses

Title: Confession with Blue Horses
Author: Sophie Hardach
Publisher: 13th June 2019 by HarperCollins Publishers Australia/Head of Zeus
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: post WW2, Berlin wall
My Rating: 4 crowns

Tobi and Ella's childhood in East Berlin is shrouded in mystery. Now adults living in London, their past in full of unanswered questions. Both remember their family's daring and terrifying attempt to escape, which ended in tragedy; but the fall-out from that single event remains elusive. Where did their parents disappear to, and why? What happened to Heiko, their little brother? And was there ever a painting of three blue horses?
In contemporary Germany, Aaron works for the archive, making his way through old files, piecing together the tragic history of thousands of families. But one file in particular catches his eye; and soon unravelling the secrets at its heart becomes an obsession.
When Ella is left a stash of notebooks by her mother, and she and Tobi embark on a search that will take them back to Berlin, her fate clashes with Aaron's, and together they piece together the details of Ella's past... and a family destroyed.
Devastating and beautifully written, funny and life-affirming, Confession with Blue Horses explores intimate family life and its strength in the most difficult of circumstances.
My Thoughts

‘She thought what a relief it would be to make a big bonfire and burn all this paper. Reading her file destroyed the past and poisoned the present. It was the Stasi’s language that did this. It distorted reality as she remembered it and covered it in dirt until she herself felt dirtied.’

I am of an age to remember East and West Germany in the Olympic Games and the stories of people trying to flee and cross over from one to the other. I remember the momentous occasion that was the fall of the Berlin Wall. From all of my reading, not often have I come across fictional stories that deal with this time. ‘Confession with Blue Horses’ is a highly engaging story set in different time periods, of one such family and the reasons and consequences - short and long term - of their life in the East and then later. 

It was eye opening to read of the experiences of living in a country where you felt that your every move was being watched. That seemingly those closest to you could, knowingly or otherwise, turn traitor and betray you. Whilst the Valentin family had a fairly reasonable standard of living, it was interesting to learn of how the stifling restrictions of the government impinged upon the three generations and how each dealt with it. 

Interspersed throughout is a later timeline of when the children, now adults, are living in London. How the daughter, Ella, is still drawn to the events of childhood and returns to Berlin to haplessly search the archives of the old GDR to look for any clues or answers to the events that had unfolded for her family. It is here that the book truly shines as the research undertaken brings to light many issues, including how the East German government removed children from families who did not support the party line. 

I was fully engaged with the heartbreaking story presented by Sophie. She genuinely captures multiple viewpoints and captures the voices from children to grandparents throughout this experience. Her writing is so insightful as to present the facts in such a way that you truly question and wonder how differing reactions could be to such a monumental, life changing occurrence. 

If you enjoy good historical fiction and desire a window into the life of East Berliners before and after the fall of the wall, you will surely appreciate everything that is, ‘Confession with Blue Horses’. 

‘All their sacrifices would be worth it in the end. Were they, Mama? Was it all worth it in the end?’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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