3rd February, 2021

Review: Gerta by Kateřina Tučková (Amazon Crossing)

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that history is usually written by the victors. It’s therefore no surprise that this novel took its time to come into being and also for it to be translated into other languages.

1945. Allied forces liberate Nazi-occupied Brno, Moravia. For Gerta Schnirch, daughter of a Czech mother and a German father aligned with Hitler, it’s not deliverance; it’s a sentence. She has been branded an enemy of the state. Caught in the changing tides of a war that shattered her family—and her innocence—Gerta must obey the official order: she, along with all ethnic Germans, is to be expelled from Czechoslovakia. With nothing but the clothes on her back and an infant daughter, she’s herded among thousands, driven from the only home she’s ever known. But the injustice only makes Gerta stronger, more empowered, and more resolved to seek justice. Her journey is a relentless quest for a seemingly impossible forgiveness. And one day, she will return.

Gerta tells the story of a young girl, who faces a serious conflict: her father and brother are followers of the Nazi regime because they identify as German while Gerta and her mother feel that they are Czech. In a straightforward way with no embellishments the author writes about Gerta‘s childhood, about the loss of both her brother and mother and about the horrible relationship with her father, an alcoholic who rapes his own daughter and leaves her pregnant.

The character of Gerta represents an entire generation of people who tried to defy both a regime and the effects of a war and still ended up asa ‘lost generation’. The incredible hopelessness Gerta is facing, the debasement she has to endure, the disrespect for human life - all of these aspects are skilfully woven into this somber narrative. Tučková manages to make graspable a time that has largely been ignored in history books, and she does it without moralising about what happened. Instead, she focuses on the lives of Gerta and the people who surround her, narrating the stories of both individuals and the guilt of the collective, told through the eyes of a strong, charismatic female protagonist. The death march that makes up the prologue is merely our entry into a story that is far-reaching, delineating the struggles of displaced groups as well as the stigma carried by those ‘Germans’ who decided to remain in Czechoslovakia, a stigma which was palpable far into the following generations.

Tučková has tackled one the most difficult chapters in European history, one that has been influencing the relationship between two nations for decades. It’s a tale of prejudice, of exclusion and collective shame.Gerta is both a disturbing novel and a wonderful piece of literature that could easily become a classic.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

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