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The Dark Room [Paperback]

Rachel Seiffert
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 8 2002
A debut novel that retells the history of twentieth-century Germany through the experiences of three ordinary Germans.

Helmut: A boy born with a physical deformity finds work as a photographer’s assistant during the 1930s and captures on film the changing temper of Berlin, the city he loves. But his acute photographic eye never provides him with the power to understand the significance of what he sees through his camera. . . . Lore: In the weeks following Germany’s surrender, a teenage girl whose parents are both in Allied captivity takes her younger siblings on a terrifying, illegal journey through the four zones of occupation in search of her grandmother. . . . Micha: Many years after the war, a young man trying to discover why the Russians imprisoned his grandfather for nine years after the war meets resistance at every turn; the only person who agrees, reluctantly, to help him is compromised by his own past.

The Dark Room evokes the experiences of the individual with astonishing emotional depth and psychological authenticity. With dazzling originality and to profound effect, Rachel Seiffert has re-envisioned and illuminated signal moments of the twentieth century in all their drama and complexity.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Three harrowing stories of people caught in the violent snare of Nazi Germany make up this evenly and unemotionally narrated first novel by an English woman living in Germany. Each of the stories bears its main character's name. The first entry concerns a boy called Helmut growing up in 1930s Berlin who has a birth defect barring him from serving in the army. He learns the trade of photography and chronicles in fascination first the evacuation of his native city, then its gradual destruction. Persistently, even when faced with evidence of the war's dreadful human toll, Helmut continues to spout the Fhrer's rhetoric. The Nazi bravado compensates for his physical shortcomings; at war's end, he is a hollow man. The next tale concerns the flight of a family of five bewildered children, led by Lore, the oldest girl, as they make their way after the Allied victory from Bavaria to their grandmother's house in Hamburg. Dependent on the charity of a fellow refugee (Tomas, a survivor of Buchenwald), the children are always on the verge of starving. After Tomas leads them to safety, Lore's gradual awareness of the Holocaust ages her beyond her years. Finally, in the last section, set in the late 1990s, a young German teacher named Micha digs into the hidden history of his dead grandfather's wartime activity, travels to Belarus to discover the truth of Opa's SS-Waffen deeds and must grapple with the new, terrifying information he unearths. Together, these three affecting works constitute a portrait of changing Germany and a psychological study of the ramifications of Nazi aggression. Seiffert's deliberately dispassionate narrative works to capture the rigid and self-righteous convictions of Germany's general population. Placed alongside the historical record, the tale gives a more complete, comprehensible picture of incomprehensible evil. 6-city author tour.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Understandably, most of the literature dealing with the Nazi era has focused on the victims of the horrors. But to comprehend its impact fully, both then and now, it is also necessary to examine the lives of those on the periphery. In this first novel, Seiffert does just that via three disparate lives. A photographer's assistant with a physical deformity that keeps him out of the army records the changing climate in Berlin before and during the war without fully understanding what he is seeing. A teenage girl, whose parents are both party members placed in captivity at war's end, finds herself leading her four younger siblings on a harrowing, illegal journey across a now divided Germany to reach her grandmother in Hamburg. Finally, a young man in the late 1990s finds himself driven to discover why his beloved grandfather had been imprisoned for nine years in the Soviet Union following the war. When he discovers the truth, another struggle begins. Each of these compelling, wholly believable stories lends additional perspective to our understanding of the period. For all serious literary collections.
- David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, FL
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
By A Customer
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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4.0 out of 5 stars This is not a novel May 23 2002
...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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5.0 out of 5 stars The Truth Comes to Light May 20 2002
By A Customer
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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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars First Rate
Inspired to read the novel having seen the movie based on the second story, "Lore". The writing is superb and the three narratives are utterly engaging. First Rate.
Published 13 months ago by David Schurmann
4.0 out of 5 stars The endurance of the human spirit is universal
When a friend recommended this book to me she said it was a page-turner but not enjoyable. I must say I found this to be an accurate assessment of a beautifully written but... Read more
Published on May 7 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting twist on WW2 literature
These three novellas take a different approach from the usual in WW2 literature: they present the difficulties for the German people. Read more
Published on April 21 2002 by Excession
5.0 out of 5 stars Great insight into the other side of WW II
The books describes the struggle of 3 generations of Germans to cope with the war.
Helmut is 18 when the war starts. Read more
Published on April 3 2002 by Linda Oskam
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful beginning
'The Dark Room' is a beautiful debut. It is captivating, lucid and thought-provoking, without being remotely pretentious. Read more
Published on March 18 2002 by A. Peel
4.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional debut
There are two sides to every story. the vast majority of Holocaust literature has dealt with the victim's story. Read more
Published on Feb. 15 2002 by Your librarian
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark Lives
There have been many narratives which deal with the world's reaction to the atrocities caused by the Nazis, but few have dealt so directly with how Germans feel about inheriting... Read more
Published on Oct. 29 2001 by Eric Anderson
3.0 out of 5 stars good but lacking that certain something...
I enjoyed this book but it failed to move me greatly. Three stories of individuals in Germany before, during and after the war. Read more
Published on Oct. 5 2001 by Scott Pack
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read!
Three stories about the effects of the holocaust on three German (non-Jewish) families: The first two are from the point of view of children and young people who are witness to... Read more
Published on June 5 2001 by Lynn Adler
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Well Done
Ms. Seiffert's book, "The Dark Room", is notable as not only an auspicious debut for this young writer, but additionally for her remarkable talent in relating a feel for human... Read more
Published on May 30 2001 by taking a rest
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