The Vanishing Sky

Written by L. Annette Binder
Review by Larry Zuckerman

In 1945, Germany has almost fallen, yet the government promises victory, demanding further sacrifices. Etta Huber thanks God that her elder son, Max, is coming home, released from service on the Eastern Front. When he arrives, his strange, dissociated behavior troubles her, but since he’s thin, with no sign of physical injury, she insists that if she feeds him, he’ll get better.

The Vanishing Sky reveals the German home front as I’ve never seen it in fiction, a small town where nobody asks questions or unburdens herself, so that neighbors who’ve known one another all their lives are strangers. War spirit still holds sway, as with Etta’s tyrannical husband, Josef, who believes in final victory and would inform on anyone who doesn’t.

Meanwhile, their younger son, fifteen-year-old Georg, has never reached puberty, remaining pudgy and physically inept, despite rigorous training with the Hitler Youth. He knows he wouldn’t last five minutes in battle, where most of his comrades have gone, which is why he dreams of escape. Etta prays for his safety, unaware that he too needs special care he’s unlikely to get.

She’s devoted her life to the ideal expressed in the famous phrase Kinder, Küche, Kirche, “children, kitchen, church,” women’s place in Reich society. Nobody could have performed that role more faithfully, but it can’t restore Max, and Georg is in the hands of maniacs. At times, her efforts to “cure” Max send the narrative into a holding pattern, because you know she won’t hear that he’s mentally disturbed. Still, you have to admire her determination; she’s a true tragic figure.

Binding tells her story patiently, like an artist placing tiny pieces into a mosaic; this literary novel isn’t one to race through. But I find it gripping, powerful, and a brave narrative, unsparing in its honesty.