Another 3 weeks and I will be in Berlin …. only impatience has (once again) got the better of me . I have travelled, early and virtually, courtesy of Beatrice Colin, born English, living in Scotland, with a fascination for Germany and its history. Tick so many of my boxes and a book is destined for the top of my TBR. The only surprise is that this one has has taken so long. The book had passed me by completely until Simon of Savidgereads raved about it.
Set in the first half of the 20th century, Lilly’s life starts the way it continues …. colourfully. She is the illegitimate daughter of a cabaret dancer. Her father a baron. By the age of three, she is orphaned as both parents are shot: her mother in a crime of passion, her father by her murdered mother’s lover. She is then fostered by a couple who have lost their own child but eventually she lands in an orphanage. All this by the age of 3!
And so it continues. Lilly’s life is populated by a cast of colourful characters although she herself is more mousey and conventional. Her friend, Hanne, is the one who runs off to the front line to – er – service the soldiers. Lilly stays at home in Berlin to starve it out. Bad luck is her constant companion as she overcomes one setback after another. After the war Hanne returns with a sackful of money and pretensions of becoming an actress. But it’s Lilly on whom fortune eventually smiles and finally her life become luminous. But will patterns of the past be repeated?
The entertainment factor is high although the constant repeated pattern of peak and trough does at times become slightly predictable and, at times, mawkish (in a Dickensian way). That said the twist at the end is quite brilliant!
German history, particularly that of Berlin, is central – World War I, the Spartacist rebellion, the decadence of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazism all loom large but are skillfully woven into the fabric of the plot so that, at no time, is the reader confronted with an academic history lesson. The 20’s and 30’s were the heyday of the silent movie. Colin pays tribute to this era in which Lilly becomes a successful actress by inventing a series of movies in which Lilly stars. I’m no movie buff but I do recognise a spoof of Metropole when I read it. I suspect there’s much more research and cleverness in these fake film scripts than I can give Colin credit for.
I must also mention the delightful photographs that accompany the start of each section. Again even though I don’t fully understand their significance (apart, once more, from the still from Metropole, recognised not from the film but from a Queen video!), they add colour, atmosphere and context and are indicative of the care and attention that has been invested in this well-researched novel.
It’s not often that I read an author’s bibliography. It’s even rarer that I invest in some of the works listed. In this case I have done both. The book on the left is now in hand and will accompany me on my trip to Berlin. I hope too that it will provide inspiration for a series of literary pics. The book on the right is now a must-own but proving to a challenge to track down at an affordable price. All suggestions welcome.