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Fraser, Sylvia.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1984. 383pP, cloth, $18.95, ISBN 0-7710-3176-9.CIP

Reviewed by Joan McGrath

Volume 13 Number 1
1985 January

Hitler shaped the Third Reich out of the broken remnants of a Germany humiliated by the outcome of World War I, the abdication of the Kaiser and the punitive Armistice. In this panoramic novel, through the lives and the deaths of a handful of disparate characters, Sylvia Fraser recreates the spawning ground of fascist evil-the glittering, decadent Berlin that reached its solstice in the thirties and was soon afterward battered into ruin.

One of the most compelling parallels of the novel is the story of Kurt Schmidt, an impoverished scavenger clawing his way to the top of the Party at the price of the life of his infant son, and the story of Count Wolfgang von Freidrich, a nobleman of the old regime who makes his dangerous way against the Nazi tide in a heroic effort to save other lives at the cost of his own. Their paths cross, but their minds never meet. During their final encounter in the death cells, Wolfgang has no more to say to his murderer than he had to the scrambling opportunist of earlier years.

Fraser has unblinkingly depicted the soul-destroying horror and degradation that are a part of all war, but she has recorded as well the courage and self-sacrifice of the few that make continued struggle meaningful and that sometimes triumph.

This is a canvas of incredible richness and complexity, painted in jarring colours befitting the story of a madman's doomed empire. One character tortured by his personal dilemma asks the question: "When do you become what you don't resist?" and no one has an answer to give him. Berlin Solstice is a warning of time's answer to that question.

Joan McGrath, Toronto Board of Education, Toronto, Ont.
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