File Name: The Recent East
Author : Thomas Grattan
ISBN : 9780374247935
Format : Hardcover 368 pages
Genre : Fiction, Historical, Historical Fiction, LGBT, Cultural, Germany, GLBT, Queer, Literary Fiction, Family, Gay, Adult Fiction,
Rating: liked it
1965, East Germany. "Arrest was everywhere in Kritzhagen, like traffic or rain...Declarations [were Vati's] favorite form of talking-Mutti too afraid to challenge him...Perhaps [Mutti] tried and failed to find a way to stay...certain they'd never make it across the border". "West was not home, but a mystery...It hit Beate [12 years old] then that this was dangerous...soldiers examined and reexamined their passports at the border crossing outside Lubeck...".
1990, Glens Falls, New York. Beate's marriage had crumbled. After years of "sulky pronouncements", husband Paul was gone. "Dad's muscular annoyance was reserved for Michael...[Michael, thirteen years old] was afraid of the wrong things. A perceived slight left him uneasy for days, though he treated near-injury as a joke...there was worry he tried to cover...". Adela, twelve, was Michael's protector. "[Dad] was a presence, a few emotions she either appreciated or avoided...how little [Adela] actually knew him". Two miracles occurred: Dad's departure and the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Beate received a registered letter stating that she could reclaim her ancestral home.
To stay or to go? Beate waivered. "Without Dad to contend with, the three of them switched exclusively to German. Beate filled the walls with lists of words the teenagers didn't know. Adela wanted to believe that Germany would be different for them...a house with dozens of rooms, the chance to swim in the sea." "With the fall of the wall, people who'd been kept in for decades began to leave...it was the city's emptiness that Michael now loved...looting had begun...Michael found a flat, rolling dolly...chairs...mixing bowls...a desk for Adela...He piled up the dolly with furniture, learned how to pack it so that it was aerodynamic and balanced". Their Kritzhagen house, upon their arrival, had no furniture and no electricity.
"What Beate thought would be a glorious return felt like squatting...She was in a city where she recognized nothing, without a job or a single friend...she grew hopeful that if she kept walking, looking...she would get to a place and remember something she'd felt there-confusion, or a joy...".
Adela self isolated, leading a hermetic existence. She read Holocaust books "...imagining the ache of hunger and cold and fear felt by Elie Wiesel...Elie marching barefoot through a blizzard". Michael experienced a sexual awakening in Germany. He realized he didn't want Adela to be his protector, his shelter from the storm. He embraced his sexual identity and new found freedom to party, loot and drink. For Michael, drinking and drugs suddenly became normal, "whole pieces of memory leaving him....including any kindness from his sister...the kindness they used to pass back and forth".
"The Recent East" by Thomas Grattan is a novel that encapsulates the time period from the 1960s to 2000. Vati and Mutti, two academics, with daughter Beate in tow, defected from East Germany. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Beate moved back to her home in Kritzhagen with her children. Author Grattan's description of a city, abandoned and looted, rings true. The city would swarm with refugees in tents and neo-nazis, but eventually the seaside city would be restored. The parallel story of a multigenerational family returning to Kritzhagen did not captivate me. Although the protagonists wanted to start anew, their abandonment of each other in pursuing their life choices fell flat for this reader. Concern for their plight made me soldier on, despite my disappointment.
Thank you Farrar, Straus and Giroux/MCD for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Rating: really liked it
Thomas Grattan's "The Recent East" tells the intergenerational story of a family that finds a home in a world populated with sadness but also with joy, and who find their lives inextricably intertwined.
Beate was a young girl when her family defected from East Germany in hopes of a better life. Moving to the USA where she discovered a man she'd marry and who would father her children, years later Beate finds herself back among the sadness that populated her childhood home in Germany. With the dividing wall down, her preteen daughter, Adela, and son, Michael, find their own lives tense and fraught as they try to find meaning in a new world in the now unified Germany. As they grow older and Michael embraces his sexuality, the family finds itself silent for years. Upon the death of a cousin, Adela and Michael find themselves together again, Adela now with a child, Peter, as they try to patch up a life that has been torn apart by the mix of sadness and joy that populates the Recent East.
Grattan's first novel is truly an incredible work of fiction: his characters are complex, the plot is multifaceted and interesting, and the story itself will help you reflect and learn to find joy in sadness. Don't sleep on this book - it will be atop the 2021 must read lists.
Rating: really liked it
DNF at p. 138. I tried - but reading this is a chore.
Rating: really liked it
This fascinating novel practically begs for a second read. Both the prose and the social observations made throughout are complex. The novel is both challenging and rewarding. It exhilarated me with its perspectives and characters and observations, and then in the next chapter asked me to catch up with a new perspective, a different generation, and a different set of circumstances for the characters, just when I wanted to stay comfortably in the perspective of the world Grattan had created for me in the previous chapter.
The novel weaves three story lines--that of Beate, who at the beginning of the novel defects from East Germany with her parents at the age of 12, Beate's children, raised in the US and then brought back to East Germany by their mother after the fall of the Berlin Wall and after her marriage has collapsed; and Peter, her grandchild. The writing is uniformly excellent and the scenes are full of surprise and rich with human feeling. Each of these generations and their tribulations and triumphs casts light on the others, and allows this relatively brief novel to span an incredible, complex era in history. I'm a little undone just now by the structure and the choices Grattan made to leap in a non-chronological way through his story, but now that I've come to the end I can see the purpose of his choices, and that's why I want to read it again soon.
Rating: liked it
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“𝐓𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐩𝐥𝐚𝐜𝐞,” 𝐔𝐝𝐨 𝐡𝐚𝐝 𝐭𝐨𝐥𝐝 𝐀𝐝𝐞𝐥𝐚. “𝐁𝐞𝐚𝐮𝐭𝐢𝐟𝐮𝐥 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐬𝐜𝐚𝐫𝐲 𝐚𝐥𝐥 𝐚𝐭 𝐨𝐧𝐜𝐞.”
“𝐓𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐦𝐮𝐬𝐭 𝐛𝐞 𝐚 𝐆𝐞𝐫𝐦𝐚𝐧 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐝 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐭,” 𝐀𝐝𝐞𝐥𝐚 𝐚𝐧𝐬𝐰𝐞𝐫𝐞𝐝, 𝐥𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐢𝐫 𝐟𝐚𝐯𝐨𝐫𝐢𝐭𝐞 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐩𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐝 𝐧𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐬- 𝐖𝐞𝐥𝐭𝐬𝐜𝐡𝐦𝐞𝐫𝐳 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐒𝐜𝐡𝐚𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐧𝐩𝐚𝐫𝐤𝐞𝐫. 𝐊𝐮𝐦𝐦𝐞𝐫𝐬𝐩𝐞𝐜𝐤. 𝐔𝐝𝐨 𝐬𝐦𝐢𝐥𝐞𝐝. “𝐁𝐨𝐭𝐡 𝐛𝐞𝐚𝐮𝐭𝐢𝐟𝐮𝐥 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐬𝐜𝐚𝐫𝐲,” 𝐡𝐞 𝐬𝐚𝐢𝐝, 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐜𝐚𝐦𝐞 𝐮𝐩 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐚 𝐧𝐞𝐰 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐝 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐦 𝐭𝐨 𝐮𝐬𝐞.
The collapse of the Berlin Wall coincides with the collapse of Beate Haas’s marriage and on the heels of these events, Beat receives a registered letter informing her that she can now claim the home in Kritzhagen she and her parents lived in before their escape many years ago. Beate has decided she and her two teenaged children should go to Germany. On a June day they discover the house with many rooms isn’t quite as their mother, whom they refer as ‘the German Lady’, remembers it. Time has taken it’s toll on the old ghost, now inhabited by mice empty of furniture and not one of the childhood friends their mother talked about there to greet them. This is the beginning of Beate curling into herself on the old mansion’s floor and avoiding the reality of this now unfamiliar country.
Adela and Michael, Beate’s teenaged children, each deal with this move differently. Adela tries on Michael’s enthusiasm, hoping the move is a turn of good fortune, wanting to believe her brother’s stories about the place. But when they land in Germany on a June morning, nothing is as they envisioned, the home not much resembling the picture their mother showed them. This will be the place the single identity they always seemed to share dissolves. Eldest Michael experiences everything from vandalism, new friendships, and partying to a sexual encounter that leaves him confronting his identity. Gay in Germany isn’t the same as gay in America. Adela buries herself in books about tragedies and the horrific history of Eastern Germany, disinterested in discovering this new country waiting outside their door beyond print. Brother and sister no longer share their lives with each other as they did before. Michael is coming into his own, separate from his family, hungry for adventure. Adela is no longer flush with certainty, that former confidence gone and buried under the ruins of their new home. Here, she seems lost in confusion. She’d rather read about their city than explore it.
One day they come home to find a large teenage boy in their yard, Udo Behm, a cousin they never knew about. Udo is the one person who can get Adela to engage with the world again beyond the walls of their home. Udo is always present after that, solving their problems (that Michael already attempted to), teaching Adela a different side of his country’s history, lightening the heaviness of Adela’s days Udo is complicated. Michael is at times a bit jealous of his place in his sister’s life being usurped by Udo but also wishes he were his own brother. Udo and Adela perceive the world in vastly different ways. It’s only a matter of time before their differences cause problems. There is violence, too, on the streets between refugees and the locals. Adela befriends a refugee girl, an act others aren’t fond of. Wannabe neo-nazis, rage, shame, and violence… Michael is too free, unaware of what’s coming and how it’s about to change his family.
Beate has returned to her native country more alien than she imagined she’d ever be. Neither American nor German any longer, it’s impossible to pretend she can navigate this new life, guide her children. There is no such thing as returning, time moves on and so do the people. She can’t recall much of her youth and is often unable place the people who remember her. She struggles to even understand why she and her much older parents left so long ago. Beate’s early years adjusting to the west shed light on the immigrant experience, how displacement effects children as much as adults. She is uprooted each time she manages to plant herself. The failure of her marriage is no different, and once again she is lost, flailing to find an anchor, failing as a mother, blind to how much Adela needs her. She is out on the streets at night almost as much as Michael, exploring the city, finding work cutting hair in a depressing bar. The reader goes back into the past with her childhood, how she met her children’s father, and her attempts at budding love in the present. Udo and his mother are a Godsend, even while irritating her in equal turns. While she is figuring herself out, violence threatens the life she envisioned back in her homeland, and changes her family for decades. The siblings aren’t finished drifting away from each other, with one child building their future in Germany, and the other fleeing.
It’s an exploration of family, cultural and sexual identity, and how we are molded by the places we plant our family. An intelligent story, if full of sorrow. I was a little disappointed by Udo’s storyline, I wanted more for he and Adela. I never felt I really got to know her as much as I wished to nor dissected their bond. The novel comes full circle, but it was focused more on Michael and Beate. The other characters sometimes come alive but Michael and Adela’s father truly feels more like a shadow than worth the reader’s time. Udo, such a damaged, lost person and yet fragile too is vital one moment and then more like an echo next. Maybe we’re meant to feel everything is out of our hands too?
Publication Date: March 9, 2021
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Rating: really liked it
A compulsively readable debut novel from Thomas Grattan that explores a slice of "ostalgie" (the reminiscing over aspects of life in communist East Germany). Spanning decades between the 1960s and early 2000s, the novel follows Beate Haas and her teen (and later adult) children Michael and Adela as they return to the Kritzhagen home from which Beate's family defected in the 60s.
Though Kritzhagen isn't found on a map of Germany, it's described as seaside and within a short train ride to Lübeck, so in my mind I pegged it to be Baltic, something like the coastal city of Rostock. When reading this book it helps to have a rudimentary understanding of the former division of West and East Germany and the not-so-clear-cut ways in which things came together after reunification in 1989. This in part explains whey Beate remains so world weary about 'coming home' to a place that she never really knew. This very frank, fascinating family saga details the coming of age and reckoning of Beate and her family members, making for a compelling and memorable read.
Thanks to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Rating: really liked it
The Recent East tells the story of a family after they move from the United States to Germany: a mother, Beate, and her two kids, Adela and Michael. Beate just got divorced, and they are moving into a house she inherited from her parents. The kids are left to their own devices as their mother learns to compose with this new reality. Over the span of multiple years in Germany, we see the children grow into adulthood, and how the move will affect their relationship.
There’s something about this book that’s hard to describe. If you’re looking for a thrill-packed coming-of-age story, this might not be for you. There aren’t a lot of “big” moments. Even some plot points that seem important or have a considerable impact on the story are introduced very casually, no fanfare. Even though it’s relatively fast paced, most of the chapters are just a description of what’s going on in their lives at a certain point in time. This is something I personally enjoy, but it’s not for everyone.
One thing I had a bit more trouble with, is that I feel like we didn’t get to see enough of their lives before the move to Germany. A portion of the book is about how much their lives have changed, but we don’t really get to see how it was before, which makes it hard to connect with the characters’ struggle in the beginning. But I loved the second half of the book so much, and it more than made up for it.
There was a great dinner party scene with Beate towards the end. It was awkward and a little sad and just so well written. I know this seems like a random thing to say but I mostly wanted to write it down to make sure I’d remember it.
I would recommend this book to people who enjoyed Shuggie Bain.
Thanks to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the advance copy of this book. The Recent East will be published on March 9, 2021.
Rating: really liked it
Please visit my book blog https://cavebookreviews.blogspot.com/.
Grattan's new novel is more than a story of immigration. Beate's story is a beautiful winding road through her life, beginning with a hurried departure from her home in East Germany. Beate's fear of lying to the border soldiers foretells a family who will always look for identification in all the places they choose to live. Beate will grow up to have children who will bond over their distant relationship with their mother. Beate rarely explains things to Adela and Michael. She is locked up with her story.
Adela is precocious and loves to read everything. Michael follows his sister and looks to her for protection. He rarely fits into his peer groups, doesn't like sports, and becomes used to kids making fun of him. When their parents separate, Adela and Michael, struggle with their mother, financially and emotionally.
When a letter arrives for Beate, their lives change, and before they can absorb what is happening, the three of them land back in Germany after the wall came down. Beate's family home once again belongs to her, along with an amount of cash from the former GDR. The children quickly learn German and struggle to fit into a strange yet somewhat familiar culture.
I enjoyed the story's inclusion of added children, husbands, lovers from the past, and ones developing within the storyline. This family struggled for many reasons, and yet, love managed to find them and bring them back together at various times in their lives. Michael and Adela's bond of devotion swept me up and reminded me of family ties I have enjoyed in my life. I loved this novel of different countries and cultures and connections of all kinds. I was interested to see that TG is a middle school teacher. He certainly understands the developmental phases of the characters trying to survive adolescence.
Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for this early e-ARC.
Rating: really liked it
Set in the fictional German seaside town of Kritzhagen, The Recent East is an urbane exploration of place and its impact on relationships across time. The book’s author, Thomas Grattan, employs the austerity and blankness of a post-Communist east Germany to create a tone filled with ennui and weariness. At times it can be difficult to understand characters’ motivations, but Grattan writes with such confidence that it is easy to be swept away in his voice. The Recent East is an excellent debut novel.
The story is told across three generations of the Haas-Sullivan family, following Beate Haas as a young girl absconding Kritzhagen to the west and her return in 1990 after German reunification. Beate reclaims her former family home in Kritzhagen as a way to restart her life post-divorce with her two preteen American children, Michael and Adela, in tow. Beate attempts to restore what was lost in her youth while her children begin to lose their previously tender sibling relationship. The novel effectively integrates the politics of the era and place (the Stasi and GDR make appearances, as do neo-Nazis), creating a real sense of the time for what is a fairly straightforward intergenerational family story. Grattan’s depiction of Michael as he discovers his sexuality in this environment is compelling and rings authentically for a queer man in his unique circumstances. Adela’s development doesn’t fare as well. At the close of part one, the family is confronted with the violent reality of Germany’s political history, which sets up an exciting part two but doesn’t strain too hard to explain how Adela comes to a crucial decision that drives the rest of the characters into the book’s second half.
The Near East’s greatest accomplishment is creating a “mood,” and Grattan has an incredible grasp for creating a place. It is not surprising that themes of home, location, and history are so important in telling these characters’ stories, and in a lesser writer’s hands, The Recent East may have been less profound. Grattan’s descriptions of blighted, abandoned Kritzhagen will undoubtedly stick with me for some time.
Thanks to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the ARC and the opportunity to leave an unbiased review.
Rating: really liked it
It takes a moment to get settled into Thomas Grattan's debut THE RECENT EAST but once you find your bearings, this sweeping multi-generational saga is wholly engaging and unputdownable. Grattan's irresistible characters are not only smart, funny and charming, but prone to change. Whether it's a literal move across city, continent or world or a more subtle shift from within, these characters are constantly searching for the best way to overhaul their lives. This kind of brash spontaneity allows for incredibly dynamic storytelling as every character makes quick work of their problems and in turn, creates more problems. Delicious!
Grattan gorgeously illustrates how ideology in adulthood is inextricably tied to influences on adolescence. For Beate, displacement (and the need to displace) becomes a lifelong hallmark rooted in her own childhood defection from East Germany. Understanding that like her parents, she can throw all her family's hope into a quick, impulsive move, she brings her children from upstate New York to Germany. Adela, endlessly curious about her new environment, gets swept away by the history of the Holocaust and thus engages in an enduring quest to help people who have been othered or left behind. Michael finds new confidence in his new home, a big fish in a small pond. He tears into his developing sexuality without abandon, which, for better or for worse, morphs him into an insatiable lover of all. I loved watching these tendencies evolve over the course of the novel. They manifest within these characters in such clever, effecting ways. Most potent is when we get to see them at play in the care of Adela's adolescent son Peter. Reflecting the love and loss of their upbringing, Beate, Michael and Adela have massively different approaches to parenting. In this, Grattan's fastidious character-building over the course of the novel just soars.
This wildly impressive debut well-earns the patience required to find its soul. I genuinely fell madly in love with Beate, Adela, Michael and Peter. With such a powerful debut, Grattan will surely be one to pay attention to.
Thank you so much to MCD x FSG for an advanced copy of this lovely lovely novel!
Rating: it was amazing
My very great thanks to MCD books for an early copy of this title in exchange for a fair review.
Y'all, I loved this book. The way the story cycles back into itself at the end has a beauty only matched for me in recent reading by Real Life.
Like most books that I find a true love for, I am having a hard time articulating my thoughts. This book is fine with meandering in and out of time, place, and voice, so it takes about the novel's full length to find the true love in it, which I know will be too much investment for some. But it is very much worth the journey, and the journey in itself is also enjoyable.
I love these characters and their casual dramas, and I found a lot of myself in Michael in the unchecked desperation and longing.
My brain is failing me to reach for more, perhaps because there is nothing "remarkable" in this book so much as it is full of a quiet love and a family that is trying their best. And sometimes that's all you can ask for.
For Readers Of: I'll Give You the Sun & The Heart's Invisible Furies
Rating: liked it
I received a copy of this book from the author for an honest review. I had a bit of an issue finally getting through the book, due to the absence of a plot. Although I don't normally read LGBTQ novels, the fact that it was multigenerational interested me.
The story weaves back and forth between the U.S. and what was once East Germany, about the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The writing is forthright and frank, though sometimes tedious. There are a few main characters, but other characters come and go. If one sets the book aside for a couple of days, it then becomes difficult to remember how they fit into the story, necessitating rereading.
What I found interesting is when the Berlin Wall fell and the people in East Berlin were allowed to leave, they abandoned their East Berlin homes. Those homes were empty for quite a while before immigrants moved into and took possession of them.
In this story some of the main characters used fake passports to initially go from East to West Berlin, before the fall of the Berlin Wall. They then moved from West Berlin to the U.S., but then returned to East Berlin after the Wall fell, when their elderly parents died & left them their home - a huge old mansion that the children were raised in. All the characters seemed to have emotional issues, including their LGBTQ teenage son. The story details all his ventures.
Grammar - excellent. Story content - so-so.
Rating: liked it
I neither loved or disliked this book. There were some parts of The Recent East that I really enjoyed. I liked that the story was told in vignettes and it helped the story really cover a lot of ground quickly. I also found myself far more interested in certain storylines within the book and when it veered from those (i.e. more Michael and Udo please) I found myself wanting to get back to the parts that I liked more.
I found all of the characters really interesting. They felt very real, they made terrible choices in their lives but it never felt too much or out of character. Every choice felt true to life and the world that Grattan created.
I will say, the story dragged for me just a bit at the end. There were a couple of places that felt like a nice ending spot but it kept going. I completely understand why it ended the way it did, I just wish a bit could have been cut out to get there.
All in all, I thought this was a great debut and can't wait to see what Thomas Grattan comes out with next.
Thank you NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for an eARC of The Recent East in exchange for an honest review.
Rating: it was amazing
“He’d recently told Lena how he could find even the plainest men attractive. ‘Democracy,’ she’d answered, then gave him an acetaminophen coated with codeine as they snuck onto a bus without paying.”
Okay gay culture in Berlin is like my favorite subject so this book already had everything going for it and it did not disappoint. It was also so much more than just that: A family drama chronicling three generations, centered around a house in East Berlin. Beate flees with her mother and father in the early 70’s due to the rise of communism and sectioning off of Berlin, and then returns with her two children in the 90’s when the wall comes down.
This is the first novel I’ve read in a while where I’ve really cared deeply about the characters despite how much it seemed they didn’t even want to be liked. It’s an exploration of sexuality for Michael, an exploration of compassion towards humanity for Adela, and a claiming of one’s self for Beata. While I was drawn mostly towards Michael’s storyline, the way that all three storylines were woven together was beautiful and all dependent on each other. Past seamlessly became the present and the future and time became disorienting in the way it is when you wake up one day trying to remember how you got here.
Rating: it was amazing
The Recent East tells a multigenerational story spanning from the 1960s to the 2000s. Starting in 1965, young Beate and her parents defect from Eastern Germany, trekking across Europe until finally settling in the US. Flash forward to the 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when Beate, now an adult, returns to her childhood home (now dilapidated) in Germany along with her two children. The story takes on perspectives of all three, through various stages in their lives, and with the eventual addition of Beate’s grandchild.
If I could describe this novel in one word, it would be: wistful. Debut author, Thomas Grattan, has really hit the mark, invoking the deep feelings one gets while contemplating every piece of their past. He gives meaning to everyday details, from the mundane to the exceptional; from a first bike to a first intimate experience. There is sadness, pain, joy, nostalgia, hope, and everything in between.
An element to this book that I find interesting is how characters, thoughts, or events are often left behind; new developments left unfinished while the story continues. Generally, this would be a sign of lacklustre storytelling, but in the case of The Recent East, it’s sort of an homage to life; things come and things go.
Interwoven with bits and pieces of history, The Recent East reflects on family dynamics, companionship, growing up, loss, sexuality, communism, racism, displacement and much much more. Each character is written with such nuance, such truth, it is impossible not to appreciate every single one of them.
In finishing this book, I feel melancholic, but in such a way that makes me appreciate all that life has to offer- all that is, all that once was, and all that will be.