In Times of Fading Light

Written by Anthea Bell (trans.) Eugen Ruge
Review by Marie Burton

Eugen Ruge’s newly translated literary novel lets us experience the political upheaval of a German family, interspersed with somewhat sarcastic reflections on their way of life. Following multiple protagonists during multiple time periods, the novel has a reminiscent quality as we explore the characters through different viewpoints. On display is a resilient family that slowly reveals their fractures through their personal despair and struggles with alcoholism, cancer, and marriage as we flip between the 1940s, 1990s and 2001.

The narration shifts from Kurt and Irina, to Wilhelm and Charlotte, and to Alexander and his son as we anticipate Wilhelm’s epic 90th birthday party. I would have liked to know what really happened during the Nazi era to Kurt and his brother besides prison, but we must fill in the blanks ourselves on this and other things. Wilhelm is utterly disappointed in his life, and he wonders about the point of it all as the Wall comes down, and yet Kurt wonders too (eighty million people dead!). We witness their search for identity, set against different backdrops of Germany’s society – deftly showing the parallels between generations – and we realize dejectedly that it is all the same thing in the end. The novel reads as if we were browsing through clippings of the characters’ memories, so we can relate to them all, but the constant jumping among people and timeframes is jarring. The writing itself is clear and precise, honest and blunt, but I question the change of tense in the last chapter. Some situations are a bit crude, but they flesh out the novel as it grasps the demons of reality for this family.