The Forgotten

Written by Mary Chamberlain
Review by Douglas Kemp

London in the Spring of 1958. Betty Fisher (born Bette Fischer) and John Harris, a school teacher, meet at a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament gathering and start a romance. All well and good, but from the start the reader is given hints about the intricacies of their respective back-stories, complexities that arise from the Second World War. Bette Fischer was twelve and living in Berlin with her family in April 1945 when Germany’s capital was occupied by the rampaging Soviet forces. John was a new and naïve 2nd Lieutenant in the British Army, given a commission as a German translator and deployed as part of a team to locate and remove secret documents and interview leading military scientists from Germany in the immediate aftermath of the Nazi regime’s collapse. Both Bette and John witnessed and were part of the traumatic barbarities of the end of the Second World War. The routine rape of German women by occupying Soviet forces has a profound effect upon Bette’s life as a child and her transition to adulthood.

The plot hinges upon an astounding one-in-a-million coincidence. Such quirks can happen in life, but they do rather stretch credulity a little. It is odd that John Harris, not any other linguists in the text, seems not to know the difference between translation and interpretation, even though that is his specialism. It is a well-plotted story, that is set firmly in the horrors of end-of-war Berlin as well as England in the late ´50s, poised between the inheritance of the War and the country teetering on a new era in the Sixties. It is a pleasure to read and to enjoy the narrative and professionally told story.