The Dark Room

Written by Rachel Seiffert
Review by Meredith Campbell

The camera clicks, images dance across a screen, as frame-by-horrifying frame unfolds the story of Nazi Germany. In this extraordinary debut novel Seiffert, a British-German film editor, presents three perspectives of ordinary people, each vignette self-contained without overlap, yet connected by Hitler’s shadow.

The first and perhaps the most satisfying of the tales is Helmut’s. He grows up in Berlin during the beginning of the Third Reich in the early 30’s. His story ends with its surrender, May 1945. The second story is thirteen-year-old Lore’s. With both parents incarcerated in allied camps at the end of the war, she makes an illegal journey across four occupied zones, leading four younger siblings from Munich to Hamburg. The third perspective is Micha’s. The year is 1997. A professor of English in modern Germany and an expectant father, Micha goes on a quest to find the truth about his beloved Opa, his grandfather. His loving, smiling Opa had served with the Waffen-ss in Belarus.

Seiffert writes in photographs. Mostly, this works; at other times it doesn’t. While the pictures are chillingly poignant and ring true, at times her abbreviated prose confuses. Seiffert depicts every scene camera-sharp, a sensory image. Nevertheless, employing the tiresome present tense throughout, overusing intentional fragments, and putting bullets and italics where quotation marks would normally go, the book may seem, stylistically, too avant-garde.

Laying aside issues of style, Seiffert has written a masterpiece, showing the impact of profound evil upon the innocent and asking the questions: Who is to blame? Where are hope and forgiveness when forgetting is impossible?