In his afterword, the author declares that he wanted to describe Germany in the ‘time between the times’ at the end of WW2, when the dazed population came out of their shelters to pick over the ruins under the eyes of their conquerors. The end of the war also found tens of thousands of people in Germany who had been uprooted from their homes throughout Europe to be slave labourers in the Reich or to escape the advancing Russians. These were the Displaced Persons (DPs), now eking out their lives in refugee camps, mentally as well as physically displaced, poised between a world that was lost and one yet to be born.
Abarbanell succeeds brilliantly in evoking this moment in history. I wish I could be as complimentary about his story. It is told through the eyes of Lilya, a young Jewish woman from what was then still the British mandate of Palestine. She belongs to an underground organisation fighting against British rule, but rather than blowing up bridges in Palestine, as she prefers, her boss sends her on a mission to Germany to track down a scientist who may or may not have survived the war. This allows her to tour the country and the DP camps, seeing them through fresh eyes.
I never understood why the Jewish ‘resistance’ wanted to find the missing scientist, or why the British should not be left to do it by themselves. Instead the British trail Lilya, who leads them to him. Nobody seems to gain anything from this, except for Lilya, who falls in love with an American officer. There is one attempt on her life, but otherwise the ‘thriller’ is played out in interviews, letters and reports. A slight story in a powerful setting.