Category Archives: tragedy

The Other Hoffmann Sister by Ben Fergusson

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The Hoffmann sisters, Ingrid and her older sibling, Margarete, are taken to German Southwest Africa in 1902, to live on land bought by their father from Baron von Ketz. The Baron, his wife and son, Emil live nearby and “give” their servants Nora and Hans to the Hoffmanns, to help them settle and to make their life more comfortable. It soon becomes clear that Margarete is not emotionally stable and that the hot, arid country does not suit her particularly well.

In some ways, Ingrid settles better. She has her books to read and is given language lessons by Hans. He is well educated and speaks German and French. Time is taken away from these lessons when he has to escort Margarete over to the von Ketz home every week. It is not totally clear to Ingrid why these trips are occurring.

The Hoffmanns eventually leave Africa in a hurried manner, after Baron von Ketz is murdered at the start of a Herero uprising. Hans and Nora are missing, and this is a source of anguish for Ingrid. This younger Hoffmann sister is full of questions about what has happened and what is to come. She loves her sister deeply and cares for her well-being and these feeling for her sister continue on their return to Germany. When Margarete becomes engaged to the young Baron von Ketz, Ingrid has some misgivings. On the wedding night, Margarete disappears and it is presumed that she is dead – drowned in the lake. The rest of the novel is about Ingrid’s search for knowledge of her sister’s disappearance and her reawakened desire to discover what happened to Hans.

A considerable amount of the story takes place in Berlin after the First World War, where Ingrid becomes tentatively involved with the revolution in the city. At times, her searches for the missing are set aside so that she can follow her passion for translating poetry from English and French into German. However, on return to the von Ketz country estate, the anguish of her loss re-emerges, along with her determination to discover the truth.

This was not a particularly easy novel to read, as the pace is variable. At times, the plot seems to come to a standstill, but then, with a new piece of information, or change of scene, it moves along again. Thinking about this, however, I feel now that this is a mirror of Ingrid’s feelings and actions. She was surrounded by unanswered questions and deception; at times, the confusion seemed to overwhelm her and she, herself, came to a standstill. Then, something was revealed to her and she could move on with her quests.

I am glad that I read this book. It gave much food for thought and I was interested in the sections on post war Berlin and the revolution. Much is written about the post war world, but I hadn’t read anything that looked at it through German eyes.

Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read “The Other Hoffmann Sister” in return for my honest review.

Meet the Author:8153785

Ben Fergusson is an award-winning novelist. He was born in Southampton in 1980 and grew up near Didcot in Oxfordshire. He studied English Literature at Warwick University and Modern Languages at Bristol University. Since leaving university he has worked as an editor, translator and publisher in London and Berlin and currently teaches at the University of Potsdam.

​Ben’s debut novel, The Spring of Kasper Meier, was selected for the Waterstone’s Book Club, WHSmith Fresh Talent and the BBC Radio 2 Book Club. It was longlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award and shortlisted for The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. It won the 2015 Betty Trask Prize for an outstanding debut novel by a writer under 35 and the HWA Debut Crown 2015 for the best historical fiction debut of the year. His second novel, The Other Hoffmann Sister, will be published by Little, Brown in 2017.

Two excellent short stories: “Annabelle” and “Alice in Wonderland” by Nancy Christie

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Annabelle, the protagonist in this short story, is a lost, tragic woman. Talking to her psychiatrist, following a complete breakdown, we gradually learn the details of her early life which had led to her present situation.

The only child of an artist and his wife, she had a woefully lonely childhood. Her father’s only thoughts were for his painting – canvas after canvas in which his wife was the subject. Annabelle’s mother would leave everything to pose for her passionate husband; this resulted in an emotionally neglected and lonely child. The emotional toll on Annabelle was great – she longed for her father to notice her, but when he did, the outcome was unimaginable.

This story gripped me from start to finish. It is beautifully written; I felt that not a word was wasted in building a picture of Annabelle’s tragic life. I look forward to reading more by this talented writer.

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“Alice in Wonderland” is the second short story that I have read by Nancy Christie.

Alice is a woman of indeterminate age, who is looking after her elderly and infirm mother. Their relationship is anything but loving. Alice’s mother is rude, demanding and belittling, treating her daughter as a slave, while Alice is longing for her mother’s death. Alice feels trapped in the house – her mother makes so many demands upon her time that she feels her own life has ended.

However, Alice does have an escape and that is through the written word.  Many of us seek solace in books; many of us read avidly, “devouring” the written word as if it feeds our very being. Alice dreams of hot, dry places, where she is waited on and all her needs are met; at any opportunity in her busy, mundane day, she will escape to these places. For her, “devouring” the written word has reached another level.

I am full of admiration for Nancy Christie’s writing. In a few short pages, she created characters that I can picture and a story which drew me in, leaving me wanting more.

A big thank you  to Pixel Press for providing me with the opportunity to read these stories pre-publication, in return for my honest reviews.

Nancy Christie:

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About this author

 

My love affair with writing started in my childhood. Books carried me into worlds I never knew existed, and, once I learned how to write, my imagination kept me there. With paper and pen, I could bring people to life who never before existed. With 26 letters, I could create a universe of my own.

As an adult, writing is my way of making a connection with the rest of the world. Fiction, non-fiction, essays and books—they are all the tools with which I shape the land and make my home.

While I make my living writing articles and corporate copy, and am the author of the inspirational book, The Gifts of Change, (Beyond Words Publishing/Atria, my real passion is for fiction.

In addition to my short fiction e-book, Annabelle and the soon-to-be-released Alice in Wonderland (both from Pixel Hall Press), my short stories have been published in literary magazines such as Red Fez, Full of Crow, Fiction365, Wanderings and The Chaffin Journal