The Porcelain Maker

Written by Sarah Freethy
Review by Jasmina Svenne

1993. Clara Vogel, German-born but British-bred, is searching for the identity of her father. She knows the clue lies in the elaborate porcelain figurines her late mother kept, even though they seem at odds with her otherwise simple tastes and are stamped with the SS insignia.

1925. When Jewish architect Max Ehrlich meets avant-garde artist Bettina Vogel, they are both students at the Bauhaus in Weimar. They are both passionate about breaking taboos in art, but as years pass and their relationship develops, fascism exerts an increasingly strong stranglehold over Germany and what is acceptable in art. Escape seems their only option, but just because the Nazi regime regards them as undesirables doesn’t mean that they will be allowed to leave…

This debut novel focuses on aspects of German history I hadn’t come across before in any of the novels I’ve read (and reviewed): the use of art and particularly porcelain as a means of propaganda to reconnect the German people with a mythical past, and the use of slave labour, even of Jewish artists and artisans, to create the objects with which the populace was expected to display its patriotism.

The characters are fairly well developed, but perhaps because of the author’s screenwriting background, I sometimes felt as if I was being held slightly at arm’s length from them, as if Freethy was expecting actors to bring them fully to life. That said, the research seems sound, and the atmosphere in 1930s and 40s Germany is well evoked. A promising start; I’d be intrigued to see how Freethy’s writing career develops.