The Scent of a Storm

Written by Annette Oppenlander
Review by Jon G. Bradley

Watching the fall of the Berlin Wall on a grainy TV screen from her drab East German apartment, Annie is suddenly jolted from her lethargy by a fuzzy picture that reignites buried memories. Could that reporter amongst the revelers be her long-lost and thought-dead war-time lover? Egged on by her energetic daughter Emma, Annie embarks on a perilous human journey into that crevasse that she has kept sealed.

This novel follows the arduous adventures of Annie and Werner. Young lovers hoping to survive the tumult of East Prussia are separated in late 1944 when Werner is drafted into Hitler’s newly created militia “the Volkssturm”. Finding herself pregnant, Annie awaits Werner’s return, but the vicissitudes of war dictate otherwise.

Oppenlander paints a complex landscape in which the raw personal emotions of each protagonist rise within the individual but, equally importantly, clash with the feelings of others. The past and present mix from varying points of view. The dialogue, at times, is realistically tense while the reader is engaged in the emotional rollercoaster that emerges.

Not for want of trying, searching for displaced people is a gargantuan task in a chaotic post-war Europe. However, life must continue, especially for Annie as a young single mother on a devastated landscape further complicated by a communist dominated social structure. Adding to the human drama is that Annie is tormented by a secret regarding her own mother: “I killed her with my selfishness”.

The past is forcefully thrust into the present and intersecting personal journeys entwine. For the first time, Emma gains a realistic insight into her mother’s past, Annie is able to reconcile some ghosts, and is that blurry reporter really Werner? This is a complex multi-layered narrative that fully engages the reader.