Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

Schroeder was forced to steer a weaving course between the bomb craters that pocked the cobbled road and the rivulets of people walking in dazed, languid fashion, going nowhere in particular, carrying the remnant objects of their old lives in parcels, sacks, crates and cartons, and a heavy, almost visible, disquiet. They were like a people thrown back to the evolutionary stage of nomadic gatherers.

The ghost of a tremendous noise hung over the scene.  Something out of this world had undone this place and left an impossible jigsaw from which to construct the old picture.

--from. p. 8 of The Aftermath 

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook is going to end up on my Best of 2013 list, for certain.  I have loads of Post-its marking vocabulary words, which I'll note below.

From the cover flap:

While thousands wander the rubble, lost and homeless, Colonel Lewis Morgan, charged with overseeing the rebuilding of this devastated city and the denazification of its defeated people, is stationed in a grand house on the River Elbe.  He is awaiting the arrival of his wife, Rachael--still grieving for their eldest son--and their only surviving son, Edmund.  But rather than force the owners of the house, a German widower and his rebellious daughter, out onto the streets, Lewis insists that the two families live together.  In this charged atmosphere both parents and children will be forced to confront their true selves as enmity and grief give way to passion and betrayal, to their deepest desires, their fiercest loyalties and the transforming power of forgiveness.  

The next paragraph calls the book "emotionally riveting" and I absolutely agree with that but what I loved most about The Aftermath was the flawed characters.  Everyone was flawed in some way, whether embarrassed by someone superior, nervous in the bedroom (even after many years of marriage), inattentive to important details happening in close proximity, arrogant, cheerfully expectant to the point of being too optimistic or single-minded in their radical thoughts. The characters were  extremely human.

The Aftermath is set in post-WWII Hamburg, 1946.

One last quote I found interesting:

He reflected on the absurd logic of the equation: they blow up a soap factory which employed two thousand Germans, made something everyone needed and had no military value whatsoever and, in return, the Russians sent the Germans bread.  It was like balancing Hell's ledger.

~p. 202

Highly recommended - The writing is graceful and erudite, the pacing natural, story intriguing, and characters so sharply drawn that I realized after closing The Aftermath that I never had even a remote sense of disbelief.  I felt very present and emotionally connected while reading The Aftermath, whether fascinated, frightened or appalled.

Vocabulary!!  Some of these are obvious in context but I still feel like writing them down. Brackets are used to shorten some of the sentences if the full sentence is not necessary to get a clear picture of the word's usage.

debouch:  emerge, issue

" [. . . ]where the Elbe veered up and debouched into the North Sea."

conurbation: A large area consisting of cities or towns that have grown so that there is very little room between them.

"The map--pulled from a pre-war German guidebook--failed to show that these conurbations were now a phantom city comprised only of ash and rubble.

quadripartite: Consisting of or divided into four parts.

"His uniform was fitting garb for a governor in this new, quadripartite Germany [. . . ]"

oedemic: It took me a second to realize this is the British version of "edematous", meaning swollen, or containing an excess of fluid in tissues or organs.

"Close up, they gave off the oedemic stench of the starving."

jejune:  dull.

Wilkins was perfectly jejune about it, sharing intimacies like a young lover unable to contain himself, including, once, a poem he had written, "To His Petal," which contained the line "I will water you, my flower, and flood you with my love." "

antiphonal . . . antiphony:

antiphony: Responsive alternation between two groups, especially of singers.

"Lewis was trusting that the faded grandeur, the serving of tea, the antiphonal sounds of clinking cutlery, and the thick carpeting would create the ambience of comfort and reassurance he required for his difficult announcement.

rebarbative: repellent, irritating

She'd once been lithe in times of changed circumstance, but here she seemed quite demotivated, found everything rebarbative."

reredos: A usually ornamental wood or stone screen or partition wall behind an alter.

"He was running his fingers over the filigree on a collapsed and cracked reredos depicting the sequence of Jesus's life in four scenes: nativity, baptism, crucifixion, resurrection."

sophistry: A reason or argument that sounds correct but is actually false.

"I think that is a sophistry. In 1939, a nationalist was a Nazi." (In response to: "I was--I still am--a nationalist, but that doesn't make me a Nazi.")

abstruse: difficult to comprehend

He'd gone to some trouble choosing [the painting], taking the Morgans' provincial sensibilities into account: nothing too outré, nothing too abstruse.

syncretism: The combination of two different forms of belief or practice.

"But "Minister hands out food parcels to grateful Germans" was surely going to be the shot of the day, providing the syncretism everyone needed [. . . ]"

deliquesce: to dissolve or melt away

"[. . .] the animal passed on without a backwards glance and deliquesced into the night."

sensecent . . . senescence: The state of being old.

"It could have been his weak chest [. . .] although in recent weeks he'd looked well: less cadaverous than usual and with some pink to his complexion; no longer the senescent man Edmund had first encountered."

boffin: [Britishism] A nerd or geek. Believed to originate as an acronym for "Back Office Intelligence", i.e. where a lot of such people found themselves working in WWII. (More at this site, which indicates it's less negative than "nerd", more a term of endearment.)

"He could never fully decipher a woman like Rachael, but he needed no Bletchley Park boffin to break this code."

demontage: dismantling

This sentence was written on a sign at a protest at a German factory in the book: "Stop the demontage!"

serried: crowded or pressed together

"[. . .] this crowd had been reassuringly shabby and serried [. . .]"

langoustine: a small edible lobster (I realized I knew this one when I read the word by itself, without context, but I'm still putting it in here because I marked it.)

"The candlelight cast a grotesque shadow on the wall behind him, making a giant dwarf of him and turning the tongs into a metallic langoustine."

architrave: The lowest division of an entablature resting in classical architecture immediately on the capital of the column.  Merriam-Webster illustration of a classical column showing the architrave.

"Icicles hung from the architraves of the great house at the park's centre."

©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. So glad to hear this is worth checking out. :)

    1. It is *excellent*, Kelly. If you read it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  2. I've been looking forward to this book, so I'm so glad to see you really liked it. Sounds like the author used the thesaurus a lot while writing, though. ;)

    1. That's kind of what I thought, too. There were times I suspected he deliberately looked for an unusual word to avoid sounding dull. But, that's fine. I enjoyed learning some new words. It's a great read, Anna!

  3. The words are cool. I only knew three of those! I used to jot down and keep track of new vocabulary I came across in reading, but I have lost the energy for that; now I just look something up if it's really puzzling me, and hope I remember it for next time!

    1. Funny, Jeane, I used to do the same thing! I had a running vocabulary notebook which I filled out as I did, above, with the word, definition(s) and the sentence in which it was used. At the top of each page, I noted the title of the book a set of words came from, as well. I gave that up when I had little ones.

  4. This sounds like a good book. And the vocabulary seems robust -- tough words!

    1. "Robust" is a very fine way to describe the use of vocabulary. The book is excellent. I'm saving it for a reread.

  5. Langoustino! and you thought of me....
    Parts of New England could definitely be called conurbation. Great words.

    1. LOL I did, actually. Yes, all the New Jersey boroughs that blend into each other fit the term "conurbation," too, don't they?


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