City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Book Festival: "Strong Feelings in Hamburg and in Paris" Review

By Allan Alstead - Posted on 24 August 2013

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Rhidian Brook and C.S. Richardson with Serena Scott in the Chair

Serena Scott began by asking Rhidan Brook to describe the background to his book, "The Aftermath". Brook said the setting was the British Zone of Germany at the end of World War Two. Germany had been divided up and the common perception was that the Russians got the farmland, the Americans got the views, the French got the wine and the British got the ruins.

He explained that each of the zones had been sub-divided into smaller areas, or 'kreis', one of which the hero of the novel, Colonel Lewis Morgan, had been appointed a District Officer. Hamburg was a devastated city and had been pummelled by more bombs in one weekend than London did in the whole war. The picture was one of total destruction of everything, with few buildings remaining standing and most of those had been badly damaged.

The time was the summer of 1946 and the families of the administrators were being sent out to join their husbands. This meant that houses had to be requisitioned - and of course there were very few available.

Lewis Morgan had been allocated a large house which was owned by an old German couple. When he saw the house, he immediately realised that it was far too large for just his family of three, so he made the offer to the German couple who owned the house that they could stay on, living in a flat at the top of the house.

Brook read an extract: the problem for Lewis Morgan was now how to break the news to his wife? They had not been together for four years of the war and had lost one son in an air raid, so she would harbour significant resentment against the German couple.

He describes how he took his wife and son to the Albion Hotel, an island of extravagance in this sea of desolation, to break the news about the German family. The hotel even had an orchestra playing and the whole ambience was almost of pre-war Germany.

However, they were playing some moving classical music which did not suit Morgan's mood, so he got them to play something more rousing to go with breaking his news.

This reading simply outlined in more detail, the problems that they would have to face together as a family. It was clear that Morgan's wife would take a lot of convincing that the right decision had been taken.

Brook admitted that the book portrays a similar experience which his grandfather had. He had been allocated a very large house on the Elbe, owned by a millionaire businessman, which he shared for five years with a German family, so really this book is reliving the family history.

For those who have lived in Germany and seen the post-war devastation this book will awake many memories and Ridley Scott's film - if it does reach the screen - even more so.

The second author, C.S. Richardson made no apology for his personal love affair with Paris. In his novel, "The Emperor of Paris", he displays a total fascination for the place, its people, its character and its food. Serena Scott suggested that his descriptions of life in Paris, "glow off the page" they are so vivid. Richardson said he had, perhaps rather foolishly, said to himself that he would spend five years writing, however, it is clear that he has created a wonderfully touching story which all should enjoy reading.

Richardson described the Parisian bakery where Octavio, the main character works. He has inherited the recipe for the perfect baguette from his father, but it is all in the mind and in his craft as he has never learned to read. So anything in the world outside the bakery has to come from Octavio's imagination.

But the story is about how Octavio meets Isabeau who is hidden in the basements of the Louvre where she works to restore paintings. Apparently she is disfigured as a result of an accident and avoids contact with others, hiding her face with a scarf. But her one joy is a love of books and reading. The way in which the two meet in these unlikely circumstances is the plot that Richardson reveals through his highly descriptive writing.

So we had two books, both with strong film potential and both appearing to be thoroughly good reads. From the exerts that the two authors read both are destined to do well with the reading public.

Emperor of Paris by CS Richardson (Portobello Books, 2013)

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook (Viking, 2013)