‘The Dark Room’ by Rachel Seiffert is made up of three stories, each telling the tale of an ordinary German and their experiences with the Second World War. Helmut, the first such story, is a photographer, situated in Berlin, watching as the city empties out as the war begins. Lore, a twelve year old girl, has to make her way across Germany with her younger siblings after her parents are arrested by the Allies. Micha is a teacher, fifty years after the war ended, who struggles to deal with his family’s past.
The book is fascinating and it is easy to see why it get short-listed for The Booker Prize. One of the reasons ‘The Dark Room’ stood out for me was the very premise – showing how the Second World War affect the people living in Germany at the time. All too often, stories focus on the Allies’ side of things, or only show the Germans as Nazis. Seiffert does away with all that, instead taking various characters from varied backgrounds and connecting them with their shared history. The characters are sympathetic and relatable, and they all make mistakes. That is primarily what this book it – a character piece, showing each characters’ development and growth. Seiffert does this very well.
However, the three separate stories did turn me off a bit. They were completely unrelated, save for the WW2 backdrop. As someone who loves connections in stories, I found this a bit disappointing. Instead of being one novel, ‘The Dark Room’ felt like an omnibus of three short ones. Of the three, I found Lore’s to be my favourite. It was the only one that had a clear goal and a voyage to get there, with plenty of suspense along the way. While Micha’s also seemed to try and do this, it was not as successful and the character was harder to relate to.
Despite this, ‘The Dark Room’ is definitely worth reading, particularly for its thought-provoking and powerful story-telling.