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An Honest Man

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  437 ratings  ·  63 reviews
In West Berlin in 1989, eighteen-year-old Ralf has just left school and is living a final golden summer with his three best friends. They spend their days swimming, smoking and daydreaming about the future, oblivious to the storm gathering on the other side of the Berlin Wall.

But an unsettling discovery about his family and a meeting with the mysterious Oz shatters everyth
Paperback, 384 pages
Published July 9th 2019 by Hachette Australia (first published July 4th 2019)
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Average rating 4.26  · 
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★★★★✰ 3.5 stars

In Ben Fergusson's An Honest Man our narrator Ralf revisits a particularly significant year in his life. The year is 1989 and Ralf is eighteen and lives with his family in West Berlin. Growing up in a bilingual household (his mother is English), Ralf has always felt like a bit of an outsider. In a few months him and his friends will part ways and go to separate universities (Ralf whose passion is geology plans to study in England). Until then they spend their days and nights relax
Eric Anderson
Jul 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Last year I went to visit Berlin for the first time over a long weekend. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a city that’s still so haunted by the after effects of war. Certainly there is more to this thriving city which is dynamic and fascinating in many ways but walking through the streets there are evident battle scars around every corner. Of course, it’s perfectly understandable that this would be the case because it was turned into a battlefield during WWII and then became a city literally divi ...more
Jun 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have enjoyed Ben Fergusson’s previous novels, “The Spring of Kasper Meier,” and “The Other Hoffman Sister,” so I was delighted to receive this for review. “An Honest Man,” is set in Berlin, during the summer of 1989, when friends Ralf, Stefan, Maike and Petra, spend the time hanging out and their involvement in conservation and nature; passing the time before they receive their exam results and move on to university.

Ralf is half-English and plans to go to the UK to study, which is unsettling h
May 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbt
Ben Fergusson's "An Honest Man" reminds us that love can cause us to see with rose-colored glasses but it can also give us clarity to help us see what had been in front of us the whole time.

Ralfi is a freshly-graduated son of a British therapist and German pharmacist living in West Berlin in 1989 in the lead up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the summer before starting university he had hoped to grow closer with his friends and girlfriend, but his summer plans hit an abrupt snag when he falls
Aug 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Ben Fergusson’s An Honest Man, is an absolutely multilayered, multi themed, provocative narrative set in 1989 at one of the most pivotal period’s in the modern history of Berlin, Germany, Europe and indeed the world. I remember being glued to the television as the Berlin Wall came down, mesmerised by the desperation and triumph symbolised by this event, and wondering what it truly meant for those whose lives had been defined by this foreboding barrier.

Against this backdrop we meet Ralf, a West B
Andrew Howdle
Sep 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a novel that keeps a reader guessing to the end and shows imagination and skill in equal amounts.

The novel is written from the present, but looks back to the months prior to November 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. The story is built skilfully around a series of doubles. The narrator, Raif Dorsam, aged eighteen, is bisexual. His life is stretched between sexual reality and fantasy: his love for Maike Willert and his desire for Osman Ozemir-- the mysterious Oz. As with a mirror facing a m
Mark Kwesi Appoh
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
What a great way to start 2021! I really loved this unique, fabulously narrated story, including the audiobook‘s narrator.
Oct 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars
I'm thinking what should I write about this book. It's strange because I don't know what genre it fits in or I would say it's multi-genre. I don't find myself love it so much but I just can't help myself keep reading, why? Cuz it's good!?One thing I can assure is the good writing in this novel, the setting in Berlin and its theme is something new to me.

It sets in a 1989 over the summer in West Berlin, we follow Ralf and his friends spending the last few months together before off to th
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
‘And this might have been my lasting memory of summer 1989. Even that moment I might have forgotten, recalling only my A levels and the Wall if people asked what that year had meant to me. But of course, in the end, 1989 meant neither of those things. It just meant Oz, and espionage – how grand that word sounds now – and I suppose my family and the terrible things we did.’

Covering the tumultuous period of summer-winter of 1989 in West Berlin, Ben Fergusson’s new novel centres on 18-year-old Ralf
Nicolas Chinardet
This is the final book of a trilogy set in the same building.

The book starts with the languorous nonchalance of the hot 1989 Berlin summer it is set in and torpor seems always about to strike but slowly the plot catches pace to an almost satisfying ending.

There are a few elements of the plot that don't come as huge surprises when they finally happen but others are much more unexpected.

This is a gentle spy story but more importantly it is a tender coming of age and moving evocation of Berlin i
Eddie Clarke
A great sense of period and location in this gay coming-of-age romance set in a tangle of Stasi & western spies as the Berlin Wall crumbles. Honesty between family and friends is the theme and the book is character-focussed rather than exclusively genre suspenseful. An enjoyable read - apparently the third segment of a Berlin trilogy set in the same building over the course of a century. After this I quite fancy checking out the first two.
Benjamin Farr
Jan 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, lgbtqi
An excellent portrayal of a young man's life in West Berlin, 1989. It's hard to say much more without giving aspects of the plot away (the author keeps you guessing until the end), but a story I'll be thinking about long into the future. ...more
Well, this was pretty excellent.

Unlike some novels that take place in Berlin, An Honest Man is very textured and doesn't take the concept of "wow Berlin much history very interesting" at face value. The zeitgeist of 1989 comes through very well, captured through portraying particular West Berlin streets/neighbourhoods and what they represented at that time, along with cultural touchstones. Ralf, the protagonist, is a geology buff, and every now and then there are facts about the primordial land
Gerasimos Reads
Aug 07, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: own
3.5/5 Stars

An Honest Man is an honest, decent, fair, above-board book. It does what it says on the tin: a coming-of-age story of a young gay man living in West Berlin right before the Wall is about to fall. But unfortunately it isn't much more than that. The writing is decent (Fergusson does a particularly good job with the historical details and rendering a realistic portrait of West Berlin in the 80s), the characters are alright (most of them are too one-dimensional to be anything more than pa
Feb 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, read-2021
Change is in the air in West Berlin in the summer of 1989, entirely unbeknownst to Ralf and his friends who have just finished high school and are enjoying a glorious last few weeks swimming, smoking and basking in the sunshine together before each setting off on their paths into the future while world history is about to change on their doorstep. For Ralf, however, the momentous change his life is about to undergo is of a far more personal nature. Falling in love with the mysterious Oz, he beco ...more
Sep 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A story about family, espionage and truths. I was very intrigued with the directions the book took and the "twists" were very surprising. I had no knowledge of the plot going in and I was pleasantly surprised to say the least. ...more
Jan 18, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really well written novel set in a interesting historical time around the time of the Berlin wall. An engaging read showing the authors deep understand of the late teen mind. A very enjoyable read.
Jane Gregg
Sep 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
A really interesting, thought provoking and complex novel, that does a great job exploring the statement (question?) that is its title.
Nigel Richards
Dec 07, 2020 rated it liked it
Beautifully written, at times the written word was exceptional. Unfortunately it was very slow indeed. It never really got going.
Aug 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
1989! gay! west Berlin! spies! geology! this had it all.
Carlos Mock
Jan 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Megan Snedden
Jan 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 12, 2021 rated it really liked it

'I felt as if a void had opened up around me. I realized that up until that point I'd always felt as if my life was following a clear course, but Oz had revealed the giddy multiplicity of lives that I might live, of people I might be. The whole world had become unstable, the things I believed, however laughable it may seems, to be permanent-my girlfriend, my friends, my family, my understanding of myself-had begun to shift. And I had the uneasy feeling that I was just old enough to see these

May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An Honest Man is a novel about love and Cold War tensions, set in West Berlin in 1989. Ralf is eighteen and is waiting for his exam results to see if he's going to university in England. He and his friends spend their time together, enjoying the days of summer before they all part ways. When Ralf meets Oz at a swimming pool, he is intrigued by the man, and they are drawn closer as Oz reveals dangerous secrets about possible spies and divided loyalties. Suddenly Ralf must question what he knows a ...more
Manu Cortez
Aug 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2-0-2-0
What happens when the foundation upon which you built your life starts to crumble, slowly at first, the fissures appearing as the summer heat sizzles above it, and then all at once. Left to rebuilt, if Diogenes was wandering through Berlin and found our protagonist, he would have called him an honest man.

The book is set in berlin, during the 1989`s a specter is hanging over Germany, the fall of the berlin wall is imminent, yet the characters suspend their belief in unification. For who could ha
Mar 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
„And this might have been my lasting memory of summer 1989. Even that moment I might have forgotten, recalling only my A levels and the Wall if people asked what that year had meant to me. But of course, in the end, 1989 meant neither of those things. It just meant Oz, and espionage – how grand that word sounds now – and I suppose my family and the terrible things we did.“

Doesn’t that make you wanting to pick this book immediately up? Separated Germany in 1989, espionage, secrets, betrayals and
Harriet Coulson
Oct 20, 2020 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a thick, deeply enveloping treat of a read. Full of twists and deeply engaging it is a coming of age tale set in 1988-89 West Berlin where a group of teens, face the challenges of their own families during a tumultuous time in German history. The author has captured the spirit and the rich environment and wrapped around a tense and skillfully woven narrative.
The teens are enjoying a last summer before heading off to University and coming to grips with the coming changes in their own live
May 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
1989: Over the course of one Berlin summer, Ralf undergoes an amlost complete break of identity while his hometown is similarly on the brink of transformation.

Absolutely saturated with memorable details, youthful scenes of summer and moments of intriguing mystery, I found this to be a delightful and gripping read. As a native Berliner myself, I was especially struck with Fergusson's eye for detail in catching the mood and specifics of a Berlin summer. He must have either grown up here or done an
Charlie Beaumont
This is a fascinating read and one I enjoyed increasingly the further the plot unravelled. The novel for me had a number of themes, adolescence, coming of age, sexuality, relationships between parents and their children, Berlin as a city, the political context provided by the socialist east and the capitalist west with the dividing Wall very much present, and the tensions that will arise when people have different beliefs and so become wary and suspicious of each other. The central characters we ...more
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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 K

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