My thanks go to the publishers who granted my Netgalley request to read this novel. This review forms my honest opinion.
*Please note that this novel bears the title Finding Clara, and also more recently The German Heiress.
1946. The ruins of Essen, Germany. A place that can’t quite believe the Second World War has been lost.
There’s Clara. Once a wartime icon and heiress to the Falkenberg iron works, she now finds herself on the run from the Allied authorities, accused by the zealous Allied occupiers of complicity in her father’s war crimes.
There’s Jakob. A charming black marketeer, badly wounded in the war but determined to help what’s left of his family survive the peace.
There’s Willy. A teenage boy diligently guarding a mine full of Wehrmacht supplies, his only friend a canary named Gertrud. Convinced the war isn’t over, he refuses to surrender his post.
When Clara returns to her hometown expecting to find her best friend, she finds everything she once knew in ruins. But in war-ravaged Germany, it’s not just the buildings that are scarred: everyone is changed, everyone lives in the wreckage of their own past.
To survive, Clara must hide who she is. But to live, she must face up to the truth of what she’s done.
I’ve been finding real comfort in historical fiction lately, and I was delighted to find this on my Kindle unread (sorry for the late review!)
I have always had a fascination with fiction (and non-fiction) that immerses itself in and around the war years, and it was this that initially attracted me to this novel. One of the most fascinating elements of this novel was the tale it told of ‘the other side’. Being British, I’ve grown up with one version of the war, and I’ve long held the view that there are untold stories out there. Finding Clara tells the story of Clara Falkenberg, a German heiress to an Iron Works empire in Essen. With a British mother with known fascist sympathies and a Nazi father in an internment camp awaiting trial, she is in hiding having fled the Allied forces. Concern for her friend, Elisa, sees her return to her home town and confront long held family secrets, and her own conscience.
Finding Clara is a very readable book. Post-war Germany came through very well, and it felt very different to accounts of post-war England at the same time. The loss of the war is felt hard, and the people live in fear and in a great deal of hardship. The description of Essen in particular was very well drawn, there is a sense of apocalyptic devastation and desperation which feels vivid and lurks on every page.
For me the most fascinating character was Willy. As a representative of the youth of Germany, his is the most intriguing and also the most tragic tale of them all. Then there is Jakob, a former soldier trying to do the best to provide and protect for what remains of his family. Both Willy and Jakob become important to Clara and it is their presence in her life which drives the narrative forward. The relationship between Clara and Jakob in particular was a real highlight for me, the two made similar by their experiences, despite their vastly different pre-war status.
I was particularly interested in the perception of Nazism from inside Germany. And it is this that forms the heart of the novel as it follows Clara while she comes to terms with both the actions of herself and her family. She personifies the German nation as she grapples with her conscience, although I did feel the strapline of her ‘facing up to the truth of what she has done’ was a little strong, and it did lead me to expect more conflict and complexity within Clara than I got. It felt at times that the author shied away from anything that would vilify her too much, although I do believe that in blurring the lines a little more, this novel could have been so much more.
That being said, I did enjoy Finding Clara and whilst it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, it was a solid read and one I happily recommend.