Confession with Blue Horses

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Pub Date 13 Jun 2019 | Archive Date 18 Aug 2019

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Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award 2019.

Tobi and Ella's childhood in East Berlin is shrouded in mystery. Now adults living in London, their past is full of unanswered questions. Both remember their family's daring and terrifying attempt to escape. But what happened next? Where did their parents disappear to, and why? What happened to Heiko, their little brother? And was there ever a painting of three blue horses?

In contemporary Germany, Aaron works for a Stasi archive, making his way through old files, reconstructing the tragic history of thousands of families. But one file in particular catches his eye; and soon unravelling the secrets at its heart becomes an obsession.

When Ella finds a stash of her mother's notebooks, she and Tobi embark on a search that will take them back to Berlin. Her fate clashes with Aaron's, and they piece together the details of Ella's past... and a family torn apart.

Devastating and beautifully written, funny and life-affirming, Confession with Blue Horses explores intimate family life and its strength in the most difficult of circumstances.

Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award 2019.

Tobi and Ella's childhood in East Berlin is shrouded in mystery. Now adults living in London, their past is full of unanswered questions. Both remember...

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ISBN 9781788548779
PRICE £14.99 (GBP)

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Average rating from 6 members

Featured Reviews

Love, betrayal, guilt, families, friends, persecution all with moral, ethical and social questions that challenge the reader along the way. Finished the book and just sat stunned, thinking, taking in the complexities woven into one fantastic journey. Life is not black and white it's the total colour spectrum and I feel this novel demonstrates this perfectly.
"When we are done, there will no part of your mind we won't know. We will be completely at home in your mind"
Thank you Sophie Hardach and Head of Zeus Books. We need more independent publishers.
This is a NetGalley /Zeus Books read

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Are you old enough to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall? As a child growing up near the (then) Czechoslovakian border, a line of barbed wire that, according to my grandmother, gave way to a minefield, with watchtowers casting beams of light into the night, I had always been aware of the divide between East and West. We grew up with stories of people trying to flee across borders, concealed in cars, swimming across dark waters or running through dense forests, and getting shot by border guards. There was a song that used to make me cry, of someone imagining freedom on the other side of the wall. So when I read the premise of this book, it was very much close to my heart!

CONFESSION WITH BLUE HORSES is a heart-breaking story of the Valentin family living in East Berlin in the former GDR, in a small apartment close to the Wall. Regine and Jochen Valentin may have well-respected positions in academia and have a reasonably good life in the East, but feel stifled by the restrictions of the Socialist government. In a country where everyone is always watching you, and an informer and traitor could be living in your own home, it is dangerous to have dreams. So it is no surprise that tragedy soon follows in their wake.

Twenty years later, Ella Valentin and her brother Tobi are adults living in London. Whilst Tobi has left their childhood trauma behind and has made a good life for himself, Ella still lives in the shadow of her mother’s past and the disappearance of their little brother Heiko. Now that her mother is dead, it is up to her to continue searching for him, and she decides to go to Berlin to find some information in the old GDR archives that may give her some clues as to where to look for him.

Did you know that the East German state took children from politically undesirable parents and gave them up for adoption to punish them for their “unruly behaviour"? This was also supposed to ensure that the children would receive a good socialist upbringing from their adoptive parents, who were chosen amongst those loyal to the party line. This policy targeted parents who had been trying to escape and had been caught, and whose children were forcibly removed from them, as was the case with the Valentin children. Whilst Ella and Tobi, as the older children, were allowed to remain in their grandmother’s care, the baby Heiko – a much more desirable child for adoption – was taken away and never heard from again. How utterly heartbreaking! I could not imagine many worse things than having your child taken from you, and never knowing his fate, and I shed many a tear over this when reading Sophie Hardach’s touching story.

Hardach does a great job in describing life in the former GDR both through adults’ as well as a child’s eyes. Whilst Ella remembers her childhood before their attempt to escape fondly, her mother’s view is a very different one. I loved the way the painting of the blue horses had a double meaning in the story – it also meant something very personal to me, as I have special childhood memories attached to Frank Marc’s painting of his blue horses. Hardach’s story really touched my heart, maybe because my childhood was coloured by living close to the iron curtain and I related to many of her descriptions of the era. I also really enjoyed the reactions of various characters to life after the fall of the wall – what an eye opener!

All in all, CONFESSION WITH BLUE HORSES was a heart-breaking snapshot of life in the former GDR, taken both through a child’s and adult eyes. Lovers of historical fiction will appreciate Hardach’s eye for detail when describing East Berlin and her account of living under the ever-watchful eye of an unforgiving socialist government. Very highly recommended, even though the title may seem a bit strange ....

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This is a beautiful atmospheric book that just gripped me from the first page. I fell in love with the characters, and I could feel myself walking down the streets of Berlin.

Will recommend to anyone who will listen!

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‘She thought what a relief it would be to make a big bonfire and burn all this paper. Reading her file destroyed the past and poisoned the present. It was the Stasi’s language that did this. It distorted reality as she remembered it and covered it in dirt until she herself felt dirtied.’

I am of an age to remember East and West Germany in the Olympic Games and the stories of people trying to flee and cross over from one to the other. I remember the momentous occasion that was the fall of the Berlin Wall. From all of my reading, not often have I come across fictional stories that deal with this time. ‘Confession with Blue Horses’ is a highly engaging story set in different time periods, of one such family and the reasons and consequences - short and long term - of their life in the East and then later.

It was eye opening to read of the experiences of living in a country where you felt that your every move was being watched. That seemingly those closest to you could, knowingly or otherwise, turn traitor and betray you. Whilst the Valentin family had a fairly reasonable standard of living, it was interesting to learn of how the stifling restrictions of the government impinged upon the three generations and how each dealt with it.

Interspersed throughout is a later timeline of when the children, now adults, are living in London. How the daughter, Ella, is still drawn to the events of childhood and returns to Berlin to haplessly search the archives of the old GDR to look for any clues or answers to the events that had unfolded for her family. It is here that the book truly shines as the research undertaken brings to light many issues, including how the East German government removed children from families who did not support the party line.

I was fully engaged with the heartbreaking story presented by Sophie. She genuinely captures multiple viewpoints and captures the voices from children to grandparents throughout this experience. Her writing is so insightful as to present the facts in such a way that you truly question and wonder how differing reactions could be to such a monumental, life changing occurrence.

If you enjoy good historical fiction and desire a window into the life of East Berliners before and after the fall of the wall, you will surely appreciate everything that is, ‘Confession with Blue Horses’.

‘All their sacrifices would be worth it in the end. Were they, Mama? Was it all worth it in the end?’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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