What Darkness Was
Germany, 1977. Close to death, an old man collapses and struggles to his bed. The sounds of the endless night unsettle him, triggering images, questions and memories. In What Darkness Was, Inka Parei allows the reader to inhabit a singular German mind. Precise and observant—but uncomprehending and on the brink of hysteria—the old man wracks his brain as the questions flow like water: Why did he inherit the building he now lives in? Why did he leave the city that was his home for so long? Is he even here voluntarily? And who was that suspicious stranger on the stairs? Lying in bed, the old man is aware that these questions may be the last puzzles he ever solves.
Combining tight prose with a compulsive delight in detail, What Darkness Was presents a dynamic portrait of the West German soul from World War II through the German Autumn of 1977—a series of killings, bombings and robberies by the Baader-Meinhof Gang and other left-wing protest groups.
‘Of all the Holocaust novel genres, the most interesting is often the one that doesn’t describe clearly defined horrors . . . Inka Parei’s What Darkness Was takes this forward, acknowledging that history has been made in Germany since the Holocaust, and that it too can be poorly understood and put into a larger continuum of culture, and lost or denied culture. Set in late 1977 in West Germany and within the addled, lost consciousness of an old man, What Darkness Was isn’t a novel of direct connections, of completeness, of action and reaction, or of explanations for the reader, but instead of gestures toward, of using abstraction, atmosphere to set the reader up to find how it comes together, and what it has to offer from the past and for the future.’—Three Percent
‘What Darkness Was gives shape, sound and presence to a world deprived of dimension and leaking its memory.’—Ron Slate, On the Seawall. Read the full review here.
Read a conversation between author Inka Parei and translator Katy Derbyshire here.
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