STARRED REVIEW
October 2017

Many voices, singing in one city

By Cristina Garcia
Review by

It’s an old but effective technique: the use of oral histories—interviews with witnesses to past events—to paint a picture of an era through multiple perspectives. Cristina García (Dreaming in Cuban) employs this technique to great effect in Here in Berlin, a quilt of a novel that creates a hypnotic portrait of the former East German city during and after World War II.

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It’s an old but effective technique: the use of oral histories—interviews with witnesses to past events—to paint a picture of an era through multiple perspectives. Cristina García (Dreaming in Cuban) employs this technique to great effect in Here in Berlin, a quilt of a novel that creates a hypnotic portrait of the former East German city during and after World War II.

A Cuban-American writer known as the Visitor returns to Germany after leaving 31 years ago to find stories about “the human fallout from Cuba’s long association with the Soviet bloc.” What follows are brief chapters in which residents of Berlin, including World War II survivors now living in nursing homes, share their stories. Among them are Ernesto, a former night watchman of a Cuban electric-fan factory who spent five months as a POW on a German submarine, and one of the few female lawyers in Germany after the war, whose job was to defend clients on trial for war crimes.

These histories range from grimly humorous (such as the story about the Ministry of Culture official whose superiors asked him to invent a dance craze that would “give the West a (managed) run for its money” and learned an “unexpurgated mambo” from a Cuban agent) to chilling (an unrepentant former Nazi criminal boasts about his wartime actions).

If some of the histories are sketchy, most provide a powerful evocation of the continuing effect of the Nazi era on Berlin’s inhabitants. As the Visitor states at the end of the novel, there is “poetry in the listening.” And that’s what Here in Berlin is: a poetic pastiche of rationalizations and regrets, and a testament to the challenge of reconciling a difficult past.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Cristina García for Here in Berlin.

This article was originally published in the October 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Here in Berlin

Here in Berlin

By Cristina Garcia
Counterpoint
ISBN 9781619029590

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