Monday, January 19, 2015


Every so often you encounter a work of fiction that rolls back the curtain onto life and, suddenly, human beings emerge, real yet in your mind. In Times of Fading Light is such a work, a sweeping saga of an “ordinary” family that reads like a biography of the German Democratic Republic - East Germany. The dramatis personae are four generations of the Umnitzer family – Charlotte and her second husband Wilhelm, communists, exiled during the war to Mexico, returning to “liberated” Germany; Kurt, her only surviving son, who withstood the war in a Soviet labor camp returning with his Russian wife, Irina and eventually, her mother; their only son, Alexander, born under socialism, embittered and alienated, and finally his only son, Markus, raised in changing times by his ex-wife and her various partners.

The novel is intricately and beautifully crafted, each section told from a different point of view, with three main themes – the unfolding of the second half of the twentieth century through family events; October 1, 1989 - the ninetieth birthday party of the much decorated and bemused step-great grandfather and September 2001, when Alexander, searching for his roots, encounters his own mortality. The novel channels Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe and Tolstoy.

The result is utterly amazing! Eugen Ruge conjures each disparate character – whether a demented communist, an illiterate Russian baba, or a three year old child captivated by the amulets of adults – with consummate skill. We observe ageing and unfolding fragilities. Funny, pathetic and fascinating! Here are the myths and metaphors that betoken the quotidian – an extendable table, the Monastery goose, a stuffed iguana - that embody the conflicts and confidences out of which a family is constructed. In The Fading Light is a masterful achievement!

- Brian Ostrow

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