#2 (2020): Confession with Blue Horses by Sophie Hardach

My second read of the year, Confession with Blue Horses, took me Berlin and filled me with the desire to book flights and explore the city. (Fortunately or unfortunately, funds did not permit me to fulfil the impulse!)

Tobi and Ella’s childhood in East Berlin is shrouded in mystery. Now adults living in London, their past is 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.

I enjoyed this a lot, partly due to my fascination with and desire to travel to Germany (Berlin in particular), partly due to how excellent the story was. Hardach’s ability to create a sense of space and to develop believable characters is to be commended. The novel made me want to research more of the history behind the Berlin Wall and finally get around to booking that trip I’ve been talking about for years.

Here’s an extract from early on in the book:

Prenzlauer Berg was looking very cheerful. Gone was the tang of coal fires and cabbage soup. The balconies were firmly attached now, and decorated with spinning pinwheel heads and anti-nuclear posters. A red sun on yellow background, clenching its fist in protest: Atomkraft Nein Danke! Fathers strapped chocolate-smeared children into buggies. Women swished past on fixed-gear bikes, reflective clips flashing from their ankles. (Pg. 114)

The story is primarily focused on Ella’s search for the truth, and Aaron’s archival work. There are also well-crafted flashbacks that provide further context to the present-day narrative. Each thread is equally stimulating and intricate in its detailing, and I found myself pondering over the characters and the tale long after I’d finished it. For anyone who enjoys fiction with a historical twist, this one may be just what you’re looking for.

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