The Blind Side of the Heart
Eastern Germany at the end of the Second World War. The story starts with a young boy, Peter, being abandoned by his mother on a railway station as they try to escape the Red Army’s advance. This bleak episode takes up just a few pages, and the rest of the novel is concerned with the events that lead up to this desertion. Helene Wursich is a clever young girl in the small town of Bautzen, on the border of Germany and Poland. Her Jewish mother shows signs of increasing mental instability, while her father is seriously injured during the Great War and dies after returning home. Helena and her older sister Martha run their house in Bautzen and are then invited to Berlin by an aunt. There, in a frantic bohemian lifestyle, Helene finds love, is bereaved and during her prolonged grief marries a Nazi engineer who mistreats, using her mischling status to abuse her and then to leave her and their newly-born son. Helene is under huge mental strain, working as a nurse and she develops problems just as her mother had years ago before her death. The book closes as it started – with Peter, now as a young man some years after the end of the war. It is a melancholy tale.
The story captures the alienation and pressures of life in Germany spanned by the two wars of the 20th century, with the momentous events as a living background to the tale. One criticism is that this is another novel that disdains the use of the basic speech mark – I really do not understand the reason for this, as it distracts the reader unnecessarily by having to establish if it a character is speaking or if it is part of the narrative.