Historical fiction doesn’t pay much attention to the German Democratic Republic. East Germany, we called it, the subjugated ruin of half a country which didn’t benefit from a Marshall Plan but which instead spent 41 years in the chilling isolation of the cold war, on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. In four short stories, ‘Snow Flurries’ draws back that barrier to demonstrate how the anger, fear and brutality of the Stasi era echo down the decades. The writing – from the pen of 42-year-old German author Romy Fölck – is deceptively straightforward and seemingly unsophisticated. It’s plain spoken and direct. The powerful emotions behind these stories are what gives this compact collection its punch, as Fölck explores her matching themes of revenge and redemption.
In the title tale, a former political prisoner and one of the guards who treated her so harshly meet many years later, after an amnesty denied the prisoner her payback. What form might her retaliation take?
In ‘St Paul’s Pact’ old bones are discovered in modern times in Leipzig. They reveal a murderous past of treachery and jealousy, where petty men denounced their peers to the secret police. George Orwell nailed it in 1984 with his ‘if you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face’ observation. This story shows what happens a whole generation later, when sons and daughters discover the truth of what their parents endured under totalitarian rule.
As is fitting for a collection of German stories, ‘Elbe Glimmers’ explores the anxiety of being reunited, of returning to your roots. As with the rest of the anthology, national political truths are distilled down to intimate personal situations – this one is as dark and disturbing as you can possibly imagine.
The final piece, ‘Old Guilt’, demonstrates the perils of prejudice. Once again the past and present collide – this time recalling the brutality of the Russian invasion in 1945. It’s a passionate courtroom drama, one where the truth is almost submerged by cultural assumptions.
Each of these stories drags the reader into an uncomfortable, unfamiliar reality. Even if you regularly read translated Eurocrime or WW2 thrillers, you’re unlikely to have met so many ordinary people in such extraordinary circumstance. It offers fascinating insights into modern German society, too. ‘Snow Flurries’ is one of the first books to be released by the wonderfully-named Weyward Sisters publishing house. This new venture translates crime, thriller and noir novels written by women in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. If you enjoy these types of books then we definitely recommend you follow them on Facebook, and check out A Contented Man, too.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Snow Flurries by Romy Fölck is translated by Rachel Hildebrandt, and is available at Amazon
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