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The Dark Room: A Novel Hardcover – 2001


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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Pantheon (2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375421041
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375421044
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 16.2 x 2.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 567 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #358,942 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Rachel Seiffert's debut novel entitled "The Dark Room (DR)" is named after the first of its three novellas. For a first effort, it is a remarkably confident and mature piece of work examining the effect of the Holocaust on the psyche of generations of Germans who had lived or whose parents and grandparents had lived through the trauma of those terrible years. Each of the three stories lend a different perspective to the events that took place.
The first of these, while the shortest, is also in some ways the most touching because there is a tragic innocence about Helmut's patriotism that is entirely believable. He makes up for his physical handicap and inability to participate more directly in the war by using his photographic skills to document it. That's his way of dealing with his personal guilt. The camera becomes Seiffert's metaphor for perspective as it makes a return appearance in the concluding segment of the novel.
The middle story entitled "Lore" is arguably the most direct because it depicts suffering but it is also the least satisfying of the three stories. Here, our teenage heroine escapes with her younger siblings to their grandmother's after their parents' arrest by the Allied forces at the end of the war. Seiffert's message in "Lore" isn't that Germans too suffered during the war. Rather, it is about the loss of innocence and the pain of betrayal. Lore is a young girl, barely into her teens and totally uncomprehending of the evil surrounding her. Her feeling of betrayal, upon discovering the true identity of the kindly Thomas whom she even develops a slight crush on and the truth behind the pictures of Jewish torture victims, is a searing pain she and even we find hard to bear. But the story drags on a bit and becomes repetitive and interminable past a certain point.
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Format: Hardcover
...The Dark Room concerns itself with events in Germany before, during and after the Second World War. There is Helmut (who reads like an echo of The Tin Drum's Oscar Matzerath), a boy born without a pectoral muscle who, as a result, cannot fight alongside his friends and neighbours in the war. Already quiet and withdrawn, Helmut withdraws from his family into the dark room where he works developing photographs of Berlin and surreptitiously noting the numbers of people leaving the city not to return. Lore comes next. She is a fourteen year old girl forced by circumstance (her parents are imprisoned by the Americans in the first days of defeat) to travel across country with her sister and three brothers, confronting death and national shame in the revelation of the Holocaust (they are American actors those people, yes, the people in the large graves covered in lime?). Micha figures last (and figuratively acts as Sieffert's retelling of Schlink's The Reader), attempting to understand the role played by his grandfather in the war (that perennial question, did you kill, did you kill, did you kill?).
All of which makes for a thoughtful and compelling read. Sieffert has a remarkable talent for saying something complex simply. Her sentences are short. The words she selects do their job better than you would ever expect simple words to do. Stray details (tree blossom, cloud, shoe leather, straw) conjure wider space. A world falls into place without you noticing.
And yet there is a problem with Rachel Sieffert's debut novel. The problem is this: this is not a novel. What you have here are two novellas and a short story. Two novellas and a short story that are connected by the fact that they are all set in Germany and revolve around events that took place during the Second World War.
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By A Customer on May 20 2002
Format: Hardcover
Rachel Seiffert is a writer who was born in England but now lives in Germany. She should be congratulated for having the courage to tackle very difficult subject matter as she did in "The Dark Room," i.e., telling the story of the Holocaust, not through the eyes of its surviving victims, but through the eyes of the murderers instead.
Although the protagonists (there are three) in Seiffert's book aren't actually murderers per se, they have become murderers by association; their implicit acceptance of Nazi Germany's crimes against the Jews has condemned them. There is Helmut, who is a Berlin teenager at the start of the war; Lore, a young girl who becomes yet another displaced person at the war's end; and Micha, perhaps the most interesting character, who is actually a member of the next generation. Micha is only thirty years old in 1997 when he begins to question his own ancestry and the history of his family.
I like the way Seiffert tells the stories of her three protagonists. Her prose is terse, quite muted and written entirely in the present tense. We are given only information the protagonists themselves know and understand and they come to know and understand themselves and their situations very slowly and very deliberately.
It is fitting that none of the characters in the three stories that make up "The Dark Room" fully understands the situation that surrounds him or her. Helmut, the protagonist of the first story, becomes a photographer's assistant when a birth defect keeps him out of the army. In his photographs of Berlin he notices that people keep disappearing, but it is quite some time before he understands why.
The book's second protagonist, Lore, may be the character least likely to comprehend the horrific events going on around her.
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