The Moment is an historical drama. American travel writer Thomas Nesbitt admits that he runs away from his fears; however, when a box is delivered from Germany, past memories come rolling back.
1984: Thomas is in Berlin writing about what it is like in the West, how the Wall dominates the city and what it is like to cross through Checkpoint Charlie to East Germany. He recalls his freelance work for a local radio service which broadcasts programmes knowing that they can be picked up in East Germany.
It’s at the radio station that Thomas meets Petra, a woman accused of speaking out against the East German state. She was imprisoned then sent to West Germany in a prisoner exchange agreement. They fall in love and plan to get married even moving to America, but Petra’s past catches up with them and while the Americans deal with Petra, Thomas is sent back home.
It has taken me a while to finish this book; like its title I had my ‘moments’ with it. Some I enjoyed, finding myself engrossed for a few hours, while at other times, the slow pace of the story dragged. It’s definitely memorable, the attention to detail created wonderful pictures in my head, particularly the contrasts between West and East Germany at the time. Then later after the Wall came down, we read some of Petra’s reflections; later still, we hear from a next generation German, who finds it hard to imagine a wall and a diverse split over a nation now joined as one.
This story made me think about its messages as well as being a good piece of cold war fiction. I’m glad I read it and I particularly enjoyed the author’s notes in the back explaining his story process.
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Thomas Nesbitt is a divorced American writer in the midst of a rueful middle age. Living a very private life in Maine – in touch only with his daughter and still trying to reconcile himself to the end of a long marriage that he knew was flawed from the outset – he finds his solitude disrupted by the arrival, one wintry morning, of a box postmarked Berlin. The return address on the box – Dussmann – unsettles him completely. For it is the name of the woman with whom he had an intense love affair twenty-six years ago in Berlin – at a time when the city was cleaved in two, and personal and political allegiances were haunted by the deep shadows of the Cold War.
Refusing initially to confront what he might find in that box, Thomas nevertheless finds himself forced to grapple with a past he has never discussed with any living person – and in the process relive those months in Berlin, when he discovered, for the first and only time in his life, the full, extraordinary force of true love. But Petra Dussmann – the woman to whom he lost his heart – was not just a refugee from a police state, but also someone who lived with an ongoing sorrow beyond dreams… and one which gradually rewrote both their destinies.
In this, his tenth novel, Douglas Kennedy has written that rare thing: a love story as morally complex as it is tragic and deeply reflective. Brilliantly gripping, it is an atmospherically dense, ethically tangled tale of romantic certainty and conflicting loyalties, all set amidst a stunningly rendered portrait of Berlin in the final dark years before The Wall came down.