Rachel Seiffert, 2001
This is one of those books that within pages of beginning it, I am awash with relief and wonder; you know, the kind of book you find yourself saying, now this is a book!
The back of my advanced copy calls The Dark Room a novel. There are three sections, each named for its central character. I found myself galloping through ‘Helmut,’the first segment and way into ‘Lore,’ before I suspected I was reading novellas, and not a novel, before I could slow down, relax, and let Rachel Seiffert reveal her secrets, the scars Nazi Germany inflicted on its citizens one and two removes from those who perpetuated the horror of the Holocaust.
'Helmut’ is the story of a young man who was born missing pectoral muscle in a country that revered physical perfection. While his friends all served for the glory of the Fatherland, he became a photographer, documenting the transition of his city through the war, never understanding what he was seeing, always wanting his place in his country's service. Both ‘Lore’ and ‘Micha’ deal with the offspring of members of the S.S. “We were not the victims,” Micha protests over the yearly observances of the Holocaust when everyone cries. But he is wrong. The legacy of brutality is that everyone is victimized, their capacity for living and loving deformed.
After finishing The Dark Room, I scouted out some reviews for the book and more information on its author, Rachel Seiffert. Most reviewers thought The Dark Room was a look at the peculiarity of the German nature, as if, like many of the following generations of German citizens thought, such horror had nothing to do with our own nature. It doesn’t examine the atrocities, nor the effect those atrocities have upon the people on which they were inflicted, but it examines the ordinary life of some of its citizens whose country has fallen into madness.
Now this is the difficult part of reading a book that makes you glad you read it: I want to see what else Rachel Seiffert has written. I want to reread the novels of Urusla Hegi. And because The Dark Room has been compared with The Tin Drum, by Gunter Grass, and I’ve never read The Tin Drum, I want to read that, too. Gunter Grass—late in his life, he revealed he had been a member of the S.S. toward the end of the Second World War.
Here’s another difficult thing about a book you really like when you’re reading books in order to clear out your book hoard. I want to pass on The Dark Room. I really do. As soon as I reread it, because it contains ideas I’ll never be finished with.