The Gathering Storm examines the impact of the Holocaust on the sailing family, the Kastners and their valued servants, the Nussbaums in the town of Kiel. A compelling read, says Julia Jones
The Gathering Storm (Sturmtaucher Trilogy vol1)
Ailsa Publishing £15.99
The Gathering Storm is the first volume of a Holocaust story.
It’s set in Kiel and covers the years 1933-1940, from the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany, to the eve of the Weserübung, the invasions of Denmark and Norway from April 1940.
By then it had become clear that there was no place in Germany for its Jewish population and no safe place for them to go, if they’d not already left.
The atrocities in Poland were systematically organised and a matter of sickening fact. The novel also conveys the brutalisation of the perpetrators
The strength of The Gathering Storm is its depiction of the slow and shocking development of inhumanity which leads outwardly decent people to condone attempted genocide.
The story is set in Kiel, a city that is sufficiently small and distinctive for neighbour to be set against neighbour, knowingly.
The two families at its heart are the socially high-ranking Kastners and their valued servants the Nussbaums.
Their existences are intertwined, symbolising the dependence of one class and one people on another, yet it does not strain credulity to accept that they are also friends.
Kiel is significant as a port city and a centre for ship building as the Kreigsmarine renounces the limitations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.
It is also a city with its own hierarchies of municipal and military life; far enough from Berlin to have an illusion of controlling its own affairs – though this is only an illusion.
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The author makes good use of editorial messages in the city newspaper to illustrate the creeping evil that will lead to previously unimaginable crimes against the Jewish population and the betrayal of individual ties of trust and affection.
The blend of fact and fiction is well managed with all the characters feeling credible whether they are ‘real’ like Admiral Canaris, head of the Abwehr, or ‘imagined’ such as the central character General Erich Kastner (whose name, I am guessing, is borrowed from the author of the children’s classic Emil and the Detectives.)
Kastner is a good man unable to escape involvement in progressively terrible events.
He and his family also love sailing and it’s fortunate for him that he’s able to get out on the water occasionally in one of those slim and beautiful racing yachts that adorned the pre-war Baltic.
The Gathering Storm is a big book in all senses: 746 pages of conspicuously small print covering a relatively small number of characters developing gradually over a number of years.
Physically as well as imaginatively it’s not a comfortable read.
The descent into horror seems intimate and somehow inescapable.
Atrocities are powerfully described as the storm of evil begins to break. At what point could each individual have said STOP?
The second and third volumes in the trilogy are already published, equally large though covering shorter time periods.
A narrative of this size is a significant commitment which some readers will find daunting and others an immersive experience for the summer months ahead.
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