The Life of Objects by Susanna Moore
The Life of Objects by Susanna Moore is a novel recommended to me by a customer last summer that will be on Parry Sound Books recommended reading list in 2014.
The story begins in 1938 with Beatrice, a young girl, almost a woman, at home in Ireland. She is desperate to escape her family and the small town where she has grown up. Making lace to supplement the family income Beatrice’s skill is noticed by a local aristocrat and her friend visiting from Europe. When Beatrice is invited to accompany this lady to Germany she immediately accepts, thinking it will be the beginning of her great adventure.
Of course, we know, that Europe will soon be at war and 1938 is not a good time to be in Germany. For Beatrice, who re-names herself Maeve, it seems like a very good time to begin her new life. She becomes a member of the wealthy Metzenburg household. Felix and Dorthea have a luxurious home, their lives culturally rich. However, as Hitler becomes more and more powerful and war begins the Metzenburgs are at risk. Although they are not Jewish, Dorthea has a Jewish ancestor. And, the fact that they are not Nazi’s means they could be considered enemies of the state. When their home is sequestered for a Nazi officer, they make the decision to move to their country estate outside of Berlin where they hope to remain safely for the duration of this war.
They soon discover their safety is not guaranteed. They bury valuable items, their own possessions and treasures brought to them by friends, for safe keeping, making a detailed map of the grounds so that it can be located when the war is over. None of them could have imagined that the war would last so long and be as far-reaching as it became. No one could have imagined the starvation and the desperation that would become part of their lives.
For those of us who had fathers who fought in the Second World War, and who remember the division of Germany, separated by a wall, into East and West, it does not seem so very long ago. But it is now almost seventy years since the end of World War II. There are many German Canadians who lived as the characters in this novel lived through the war and later made Canada their home. It is a time that still fascinates writers, and readers, perhaps because the lives lived by those who experienced this time seem so exceptional to us now.
We have not grown up with war in the same way that the generation before us did. Most of us have not fought in a war, or waited at home for a loved one to return from war. Few of us have experienced hunger, let alone starvation. Few of us have ever feared for our lives or lived under a dictatorship. We know how fortunate we are that Canada is a place of peace and safety.
The Life of Objects follows Beatrice and the Metzenburgs through the war, to the peace agreement and the division of Berlin between the West and Russia. Formerly wealthy, aristocratic, German gentry are now members of a Communist state. There are many novels about the British, Americans, Canadians and others on “our” side of The Second World War, but very few about the lives of the German people who also found their lives so changed by living in a country at war. I found The Life of Objects challenged me to think of the lives of those who were considered our enemies but who were really simply people with as little control over their lives as those on the other side of the conflict.