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The Puzzle Women

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Berlin, 1989. Siblings Rune and Lotte are shaken awake by Mama and told to follow her quietly into the night. Last time they snuck away from Papa, with Mama bruised and broken, they were back within a week. But this time they are starting a new life, Mama says—where nobody can ever hurt them again.

Ten years later, the memories of their escape are blurry; Mama is long gone and the siblings are back at Papa’s house. But when they receive a mysterious notebook that seems to have come from Mama, Papa tears it apart. Could there be more to their past than they’ve been led to believe?

With Rune paralysed by fear, Lotte takes their fate into her own hands. When she learns about the ‘Puzzle Women’ working tirelessly to reconstruct files shredded by the former secret police, she begs them to help her piece Mama’s story back together. But as Papa’s threats against both siblings escalate, can they unite to learn the full, brutal truth in Mama’s own words at last?

425 pages, Kindle Edition

First published October 20, 2020

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Anna Ellory

3 books78 followers

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5 stars
2,051 (46%)
4 stars
1,461 (33%)
3 stars
598 (13%)
2 stars
179 (4%)
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131 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 260 reviews
Profile Image for Debra .
2,198 reviews34.9k followers
October 17, 2020
"Love isn't just something you feel - it's something you do."

This is a remarkably interesting and intriguing book. It is about domestic violence, abuse and pain but it is also about love, family, hope and resilience.

It is the story of a mother who loved her children. It is about children who loved their mother and share a close bond and love each other. It is about taking your fate into your own hands, about being brave, about taking chances. It is about helping others. It is also about fear, self-medicating, and fear.

Then it is also about women helping others. About piecing the pieces back together. It is a search for the truth, it is about Berlin's history. The Puzzle women who worked tirelessly to reconstruct shredded files of the former secret police.

Heartbreaking at times, this book tells the story of siblings Rune and Lottie, their Mama and Papa. This was a beautifully written and captivating read. It will not be easy for some to read, but it is worthwhile. There are parts that will put a smile on your face. This was my first book by this Author, and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.

Thank you to Amazon Publishing UK and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Sarah-Hope.
1,049 reviews86 followers
September 25, 2020
Have you had that experience where you begin reading a book, and it's not bad, but you're still withholding judgement—and then, about 10% of the way in, you realize you're reading something exceptional, and you know you'll be staying up until you've read every last word of it? I had that experience reading Anna Ellory's The Puzzle Women.

I don't want to say too much about this title because it was so wonderful to dive into it without preconceptions or expectations. Let me just say that it's about family, the ways they do/don't fail one another, and the lengths to which they will go to protect one another; it's also about hope and resilience. The Puzzle Women is set in two time periods: during the fall of the Berlin Wall and in the present day as the "Puzzle Women" work to reconstruct documents from the thousands of bags of shredded papers left behind by the Stasi when East and West Berlin were reunited.

The publisher's blurb for the book oversimplifies the narrative and doesn't do it justice. Ignore the blurb. Don't read a ton of reviews. Just pick this title up as soon as you can and read!

I received a free electronic ARC of this title from the publisher via NetGally for review purposes. The opinions are my own.

Profile Image for Alina.
751 reviews249 followers
December 18, 2020

***Note: I received a copy curtesy of Netgalley and Amazon Publishing UK / Lake Union Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

* Plot: 3.5★
* Characters: 3★
* Language/Humor/Witticism: 3★
* Enjoyability: 3★

The novel is focused mainly on mystery and abuse, with quite sparse bits of historical fiction added. Lotte, a girl with Down syndrome, is quite nice and sweet, maybe a tad too highly functional depicted - I know two girls/women with Down and neither one of them is this resourceful and skilled at all kinds of things (baking, traveling on her own, etc). Rune/Roo is very sweet and protective towards his sister, but at the same time kind of depressed and addicted on oxy. The other secondary characters are given too little space to develop.

Although I felt for the mom and I appreciated her trying to escape the abusive relashionship and spare her children from such a life, the book overall didn't quite make an impact, maybe because of the writing, which was too pompous and flowery for my taste - even the letters are full of metaphors that I highly doubt a daughter with Down's syndrome would understand..
Also, the ending didn’t quite work for me.
Profile Image for Rose.
260 reviews107 followers
October 26, 2020
The Puzzle Women - for me was an incredible book. Very beautifully written and a book that tells an important story.

Both full of sadness, and love, with characters that stay with you long after the story ends.

Very heartbreaking at times, but full of relationships and support.

This book is one to pick up, read, share and talk about!

Thank You to NetGalley, Author Anna Ellory and Amazon Publishing UK for my advanced copy to read and review.

#ThePuzzleWomen #NetGalley
Profile Image for thebookconfessions.
411 reviews29 followers
September 23, 2020
I was not sure if I should give this book 3.5 or 4⭐ but it's been a few days since I finished it and it's still fresh in my mind so I definitely enjoyed it a lot.

This is my first book from the author and it won't be my last. This was such an intriguing story. Mysterious and emotional.
I especially liked Lotte! Her chapters were so interesting to read. I think the way she acted and described things, made me even more interested in the story. It definitely made me feel closer to the story, closer to the characters.

It was a devastating but heartwarming story. Intense but interesting. It was a realistic story of love, faith, hope, and survival. I really really enjoyed it!
Profile Image for Sandra.
174 reviews1 follower
October 15, 2020
This is book that is hard to put down as it grabs the reader from the start. The story is mainly about a family, Papa, Mama, Roo and Lotte but is so much more than a family story. The story epitomises the love of a mother for her children in a vey emotional, painful way. I loved the fact that this entwined two stories into one as it was based upon historical facts. I knew of the separation of Germany by the Berlin Wall, some of the issues and problems caused by fall of the wall and the amalgation of the East and the West peoples. I did not know of the existence of The Puzzle Women before and this was so beautifully wound into the family story.
This is a heart warming story defining a mothers love for her children facing the pychological and physical abuse from her husband. There are a lot of disturbing torture descriptions and throughout I would say that it was a brutal read. I adored Lotte who was a Downs Syndrome child but was very strong in her thoughts and kept on saying that she was independent to help her fight her place and try to make people realise that she was capable of more than people gave her credit for. It did not help that this story was set in a period where people who were disabled, mentally or physically, were basically locked away out of sight in special places.
There were many beautiful moments throughout defining a mothers love for her children, the entwining of hearts and the magic of being born. The most unforgettable moment was when Lotte states why she likes Bees as it is so beautiful in her thought process. Bees have tiny wings and big fat bodies and they shuld not be able to fly but they can. Such a lovely comparison to Downs Syndrome people often in shape and strength of character.
This was a very skilfully written story that captured the essence of all the characters.
Profile Image for Chris.
633 reviews15 followers
April 11, 2021
I was writing my review and stopped as it became so ridiculously lengthy.

Oh how I loved this unusual story! There were pieces that broke my heart. Both in a good and bad way. It was also historical (Berlin) in nature. It also involved a family where domestic abuse occurred from father to mother and son. Not Lotte, not yet anyway if her brother has anything to do with it!

The young girl, Lotte, with Down’s syndrome, was the star.
I absolutely loved her character! She truly was the hero of this story and has won over my heart.

There is so much, much more to this story, but to give it up would take away from giving other readers the reading opportunity.

A very unusual storyline, beautifully written and I highly recommend this one.

Five shining stars!
Profile Image for Sabrina.
158 reviews29 followers
December 28, 2020
* 4.5 Stars!

I truly can not begin to explain how amazingly fantastic this book was...

This book is told in three different time periods, with three separate narratives that intertwine into a beautiful work of mystery, suspense, love and loss. Mama, Rune, and Lotte are leaving their home in the middle of the night and quite literally running away.. taking place in Berlin before, during and after the fall of that most famous wall.. this piece of historical fiction proves that the separation between East and West Berlin was at least in this situation for the best!

My favorite part of this novel was the narrative provided by Lotte between the ages of 6-16. Lotte has down syndrome, the strongest desire to be inde-pen-dent, and an overwhelming drive to not "forget"!

There are times in this book that the author describes in great detail moments of domestic abuse, it is not to the point of being unnecessary and it is respectfully done. However, if this is something that bothers you to read about, you might want to pass this one by.
Profile Image for Carole888.
98 reviews14 followers
September 23, 2021
Set in Germany, with three voices, that of Rune, Lotte and Mama, narrating events from “then”(1989) and “now”(1999) ... Historically enlightening, sad, but full of hope. This is a Bookclub read and a new author for me.
Profile Image for Martina.
344 reviews10 followers
February 23, 2023
Sommige stukjes van het verhaal vond ik echt super mooi, maar andere delen vond ik juist afstandelijk geschreven! Dan had ik er echt helemaal niets mee. Jammer! Toch ben ik blij dat ik doorgelezen heb hoor, al met al een mooi verhaal
January 12, 2021
I really enjoyed this book which depicts a family struggle in Berlin from 1989 through 1999, just before and following the fall of the wall. I am now motivated to learn more about this very recent history. One of the characters is a delightful down-syndrome child/teen who was beloved by the family and the reader. A character type rarely seen in literature. 4.5
Profile Image for Lisa.
387 reviews39 followers
October 12, 2020
The Puzzle Women is a dual-time story, set in 1989 at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall and ten years later, in 1999. As the story opens, Mama takes her children, Rune and Lotte, and flees her abusive marriage. Ten years later, Mama is gone, the children are back in Papa’s grasp, and their memories are faded. Lotte, the younger of the two, barely remembers anything of Mama, their escape, and what follows. But one day a mysterious notebook arrives. Lotte struggles to read, but she sees enough to know the notebook came from Mama.

“‘Mama!’ That sharp pointy word came at her from the page with soft hands and the voice of songs. It was an all-over feeling. It was a new feeling. It was a feeling of holding on so tight, so as not to be left. Of being still, which was far harder than being quiet. Of quiet being the sound that roars on the inside. Of sucking her thumb and listening to words transformed into the cakes of dreams.“

Papa finds the notebook and destroys it. So when Lotte learns of the “Puzzle Women,” reconstructing files the Stasi had shredded and left behind when the Berlin Wall fell, she determines to be independent and to seek their help. Telling no one where she is going, she sets out on her own with her goal firmly in mind.

Rune, upon learning Lotte is gone, is frantic to find her. He is overwhelmed with guilt for what he thinks he’s done, burdened with fear for what he thinks will happen when his past choices are made known. He fears that nothing but hurt will come from any revelations the Puzzle Women may make from scattered pieces of the past.

“The official line was that the Stasi had ‘disappeared her’ but he’d been there, and it wouldn’t have happened without him. Rune had made her death inevitable, even if he hadn’t killed her himself. How was he ever to explain that to Lotte? He didn’t want to see Lotte’s face when she ran out of the notebook entries. When the reality of death and the beginning of grief began for her. And the questions that began with ‘how?’ started. If Lotte knew what he had done too, would she be able to understand ? He wasn’t asking for forgiveness – he could never forgive himself. But for Lotte to look at him differently, it would destroy him.“

Lotte just wants to remember, wants to know what the notebook says and who Mama was, wants a place where she fits. I adored seeing Lotte’s character develop through the course of the book. Papa made her think she was nothing. But others saw her value, and she began to shine in the warmth of their love and approval.

“‘Why do you like bees so much?’Clio asked. Lotte looked at Sabine, who winked. Sabine knew why. She looked at Pepin, who laughed. She knew why too. It made Lotte happy that her friends understood her. ‘Because,’Lotte explained, ‘they have tiny wings and big fat bodies. They shouldn’t be able to fly and yet they do.’‘So?’‘So, sometimes you can be more than what people think you can be.’‘Exactly,’said Sabine and Roo at the same time.“

The story pulls you along. Tension is constant, as there is always the fear of what Papa will do, where he will turn up, what strings he can pull to bring his family back under his thumb when they dare to think that perhaps they are finally beyond his reach. Ellory turns a wondrous phrase, and her skillful use of language to draw mental images makes the words come alive in the reader’s mind. “He reread the rejection letter; the words felt like bullet holes, fossilised wounds – a constellation of stars, and just as unreachable.” “Lotte felt good, really sunflower-yellow good, and she fell asleep listening to the warming glow of Sabine’s laugh.” “The point he had been trying to make slip-slid off his face and puddled in his belly.” The book is filled with instances like that, where the words you just read make you pause and visualize what the author has said.

This is not necessarily an easy read, especially not for anyone who has suffered abuse. But it is an enthralling read, brutal yet healing, full of harsh reality and sacrificial love. The language is beautiful, and the story is compelling. It is worth your time.

Disclaimer: I received an advance reader copy of this book from NetGalley and Amazon Publishing UK. All opinions here are my own, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.
Profile Image for Donne.
1,102 reviews3 followers
September 25, 2021
Once in awhile, I enjoy a veering off my "typical" reading genres (crime mysteries/thrillers and urban/sci-fi fantasies) for a really good historical fiction story. The Puzzle Women certainly started off in that direction but seemed to have kind lost it's way by the end of the story. If I could have given it 2.5stars, I would have. Thus making my 3star rating kind of generous.

I really enjoyed most of the story about siblings Rune and Lotte and how it flipped back and forth from 1989 Berlin (just before the wall fell) and 1999 Berlin. The story of them finding the "Puzzle Women" and reconstructing the story of their mother and their memories of her were interesting, enough for me to invest in wanting to know more about the outcome.

Unfortunately, the story suffered towards the end (last 20-25%) like so many stories - an author who who doesn't know how to end it properly and ends up rushing it to a sloppy finish. This book was a little long in some parts and not long enough in others. With a proper edit, the author could have omitted some sections of the book without taking away from the story thus allowing her to commit to a decent and proper ending.
Profile Image for Connie53.
940 reviews3 followers
February 9, 2022
Dit was een van de weinige keren dat ik op een persoon in een boek heb zitten schelden. Ik was zo gefrustreerd door wat er gebeurde dat ik echt kwaad was.
Het verhaal speelt zich af in Berlijn en in Neurenberg in 1989 en 1999. Rune (10) en Lotte (5) zijn broer en zus. Thuis is het niet veilig door hun vader. Als hun moeder hen in 1989 het huis uit smokkelt, gaan ze naar een opvanghuis ver weg van hun vader. De vader is een machtig man bij de politie en hun moeder heeft geen schijn van kans als ze naar de politie gaat om aangifte tegen haar man te doen.
In 1999 wonen Lotte en Rune alleen met hun vader en zijn nieuwe vrouw. Lotte krijgt op een dag een pakje met daarin een dagboek geschreven door hun moeder dat onmiddellijk door vader wordt verscheurd. Als ze op de radio hoort dat er in Neurenberg een aantal mensen zijn die proberen om verscheurde documenten van de Stasi weer in elkaar te zetten. Ze worden 'De puzzelvrouwen, genoemd. Lotte besluit om met de verscheurde stukken van het dagboek naar Neurenberg te reizen om die daar weer in elkaar te laten zetten. De vrouwen zijn aardig voor Lotte en proberen haar te helpen in hun vrije tijd en langzaam ontstaat het verhaal van wat er allemaal is gebeurd.

Ik vond dit echt een hartverscheurend mooi verhaal. Het is ook goed, en af en toe prachtig, geschreven.
Profile Image for January.
442 reviews
June 22, 2021
Okay everyone, stop what you are doing right now and go read this book.

And then cry.

And now, do you need a hug? Because I do.

I can’t believe there is a world where this story existed. It is so beautiful and heartbreaking and monstrous and hopeful that it could only exist in this world of humans, who are all those things.

On a very simplistic level, I want to say that I know nothing as an American about Cold war times. It is so difficult to get accurate information anyway, but where is this history? Why isn’t it being shared? I had to look up so much and still, have so many questions. I know, it’s awful, beyond awful. (Even the characters did not want to remember) But we clearly have shown that we are only doomed to repeat if we don’t learn the first time…. Topical much? :(

I want to live in a world where Lotte exists and I can just be in the room with her. I have never met such a captivating and well written character who has had the odds stacked against her and is so purely beautiful in her own way. (Maybe From the movie Little Miss Sunshine? It’s been a while since I saw it but my mind leans to it.) She is just, good. A good person. There are only about 10 of them I think? Lotte needs her words made into precepts - I loved the reactions of The Puzzle Women because mine were exactly the same. What a blessing to have known her even just in words. She is magic.

Rune is heartbreaking and I just want to hug him. I was just talking to someone about our notion of Being a Man; so much was stacked against Rune as well. He didn’t know! And no one, NO ONE is to blame but that awful monster, who does not deserve any more mentioning. I love the idea here of giving no more credit or attention to him - as survivors and Rune say, He will be forgotten.

The mom. I can’t. Could you even think on this? Her days in stasis at the LifeHouse. I couldn’t imagine where she went in her mind so many times, too many. I can’t imagine how strong her heart was. I can only be in Awe and tears. And wish I could give hugs. What an Unbelievable story - and again, sadly it could take place anywhere, but with the historical addition of East and West Germany?! How much of a story to tell, so thankful for this book.
1,030 reviews8 followers
October 16, 2020
Gut wrenching and heartbreaking yet filled with warmth and beautiful love, this intense book is impossible to set aside until completely read and mulled over. Your heart will pound and drop and you will hold your breath as you follow this family on a dual timeline in Germany as they traverse a nightmare, not life.

Mama, Roo and Lotte make another attempt to leave their home on tiptoe with a few belongings, desperate not to awaken Papa and his horrendous wrath. But their escape doesn't last for long. The bond between the three is super close and Mama does what she can to instill real love into her children with words and actions. Papa is a looming threatening dark presence whose actions are despicable and heinous which we see throughout the story.

The arrival of a notebook from the past in the mail changes everything. Shortly after Lotte discovers Puzzle Women who literally go through bags and bags of shredded documents and puzzle them back together. They help fit the pieces into place in her own family's history, one by one.

The characters are so very emotive and believable and engaging, almost too real. I can't say it's an enjoyable read but a necessary read.

*Trigger warning: torture and domestic abuse.

My sincere thank you to Amazon Publishing UK and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this poignant book in exchange for an honest review. Much appreciated.
84 reviews1 follower
February 9, 2021
This story is essentially about a mother’s love for her children and the lengths she’d go to to protect them. The book addresses domestic violence and is not an easy read. It is brutal in places and may not be for everybody.
The period of history was of particular interest to me. The story spans the collapse of the Berlin Wall and focusses on the Puzzle Women who were employed to piece together documents shredded by the Stasi.

Although dark in places, this is an interesting, beautifully-written novel of love, hope and solidarity.
Profile Image for Pip.
93 reviews2 followers
December 5, 2020
3.5 stars I almost gave up on this after the first chapter, glad I didn’t. It’s pretty grim, horrific in places but it does a really good job of illuminating another perspective on a monumental point in history - the fall of the Berlin Wall. I also appreciated the new (for me) perspective of the inner world of a girl with Down’s syndrome.
February 24, 2021
Do not let the title of this book put you off (sadly I expect a publisher’s decision)! It’s a moving account of two East German siblings; their relationships with their abusive father and missing mother. Incredibly moving and insightful characters. I couldn’t put it down!
Profile Image for Irene.
725 reviews
October 21, 2021
3,5/4 sterren

Mooi, goed, indrukwekkend verhaal. Vlot te lezen. Persoonlijk had ik iets meer informatie/tijdsbeeld verwacht van de DDR en val van de muur etc gezien het tijdspad waarin het verhaal zich heel specifiek afspeelt.

Volledige recensie volgt binnenkort op De Leesfabriek!
Profile Image for Yumiko Hansen.
477 reviews8 followers
January 16, 2022
3.75 stars

— Weaving historical moments in German history with the personal stories of the unique characters makes this novel a great read - then why 3.75 stars? The story was a powerful one but I think the writer focussed too much on being sensational and not enough on being believable.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, the story degenerated into a cat-and-mouse style thriller with the outcome becoming more and more predictable as the pages turned. The very last twist in the tale was, for me, a bit of a cop-out.
Profile Image for Lyndsae Benton.
52 reviews
July 22, 2021
This is the kind of story that keeps you up reading way too late and will stay with you forever.
37 reviews
January 23, 2022
I love Anna's books; her style of writing takes you deep into the emotional aspects as she weaves the story around you.
I couldn't put this book down and feel changed by it.
Profile Image for Natalie Awdry.
144 reviews1 follower
March 8, 2021
I was totally swept away into this novel. I loved the two principal narrative threads and timelines and how the story was being told from the perspective of the two different children. It was amazing how differently they remembered, or misremembered, the events of the past and to see how they developed their own coping mechanisms for what was going on around them.

Aside from the fascinating subject matter - the fall of the Berlin wall and the subsequent investigations into the Stasi "disappearances" - the story itself was told incredibly well and beautifully written. By far the best thing I've read this year.
Profile Image for Perth Bookclub.
4 reviews4 followers
October 23, 2021
Discussion points for bookclub

The Puzzle Women by Anna Ellory

1. Opening quote, what came to your mind when you read it for the first time.

“Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in time future, And time future contained in time past. If all time is eternally present All time is unredeemable.”

T.S. Eliot ‘Burnt Norton’ The Four Quartets

2. Stassi/Lotte’s dad parallel stories that represent the same evil. Puzzle women/Lotte in search for the truth. What is human nature always searching for? Who is after our truth? Where does this truth resides?
3. We know the story through the innocent eyes of Lotte. Why was Lotte chosen to tell the story?What drives a person, a society to turn against each other?
4. What is Anna Ellory proposal of freedom from one’s fears? “When life changes, the mind becomes free of its cage, the tongue acting like a key, unlocking, opening, permitting the sky to become a blank page on which to write, to fly. I have found freedom at LightHouse,”
5. In what way was Rune confronted with his mum’s new place for them and what he knew of people being disappeared by the Stassi?
6. What would you have done in his place? In her place? Is he guilty?
7. “forgetting is the greatest freedom a person can have.” Do you agree or disagree? When is forgetting actually positive?
8. “I can show them I am Lotte first. Down’s syndrome is just one of the things that makes me – me! One of the pieces of the Lotte-puzzle.’ Another theme explored in the book is the complexities of a person and how we normally judged by them. How is Lotte different /similar from Sabine? (The puzzle woman who took her home to spend the night and got pregnant at 15)
9. What are the prejudices that people form of you before they get to know you?
10. Time: past/present/future “I am here, yet I am not;” “The past seemed always to be present and he was about to lose everything.” “Our freedom stretches like the horizon, an untouchable, unreachable destination.” “but real life seemed to have no importance since being confined with the pages of the past.” “Time does not heal all wounds. All wounds do not heal.” “He had no choice but to accommodate the past and permit the pain of it to find a way to make it legible. Living. Alive. Present.” “They hadn’t yet discussed what lay ahead. They had discussed what was behind and what was now, but neither had touched on the forward trajectory of ‘next’.”
11. Hope: why Rune is unable to feel hope unlike Nanya
12. Do you agree: “forgetting is the greatest freedom a person can have.”

Profile Image for Jacqueline Allan.
519 reviews4 followers
September 18, 2020
A sincere thank you to the publisher, author and Netgalley for providing me with an ebook copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

This is not my usual genre,  however I wanted to take the opportunity to read something from outside my norm. And I am glad I did!! Thank you for  opening up my mind to something totally different. Characters were so well developed that I felt as though I knew them. I love when a book draws you into the story and it feels like you are living it with them.
Profile Image for Sian.
2 reviews
December 17, 2020
I knew from my experience with Anna's other work, in particular her debut novel, The Rabbit Girls, that The Puzzle Women would be equal parts devastating and beautiful, and in this second offering Anna has refined those elements into a work that is insidiously gorgeous, heart-breaking and heart-warming at once: something that is truly bitter-sweet.

The reality of domestic abuse is laid bare: the threats, the double-edged mercies, the terrible violence. Papa is a shadow that falls across the characters and the narrative, skirting the edges of everything, always a step behind or, frighteningly, a step ahead, mirrored by the constant oppression and surveillance of the socialist DDR. It's pervasive and constant, but there is hope: kindness, compassion, the want to do right and to be done right by, and most of all, most importantly of all, love.

Lotte's chapters in particular are full of absolutely joyful descriptions of mundane things and actions, from baking a cake to playing with her favourite soft toy or trying, desperately, to remember the face of her mother. They are a delight, providing warmth and levity in a world that, for Rune, is so grey and unrelenting.

An inspiring and honest tale of survival, and the realities, cost, and consequence that survival can demand.
802 reviews2 followers
June 26, 2022
A tale of two halves of a city, and the differences between them.

Rune lives in West Berlin with his parents and little sister, Lotte. Rune's father is abusive and a liar, buttering up his superiors and other VIPs as his father did before him. Rune is determined to study art; his father is even more adamant that he will become a policeman, the 3rd generation of his family to do so. Rune's goal is to provide for Lotte, to keep her safe, to help her be independent and be more than her Down's Syndrome...and to stand between her and their father's fists, cigarettes, the stove, and more.
Rune watched the things his father did to his mother, things he didn't fully understand. And when his mother decided to flee, this time to East Berlin, he did all he could to help.
But he was in far worse case in the East, and wondered why his mother seemed reassured by the socialism that was choking him and threatening to put Lotte in a "special needs school," in fact, a reform schiol where special needs kids were brutalized. To try and save Lotte and his mother, when he was taken into the office at school and "offered" the chance to show his "gratitude" to the Socialist state by informing, he signed, knowing what could happen if he failed to sign, failed to report on his family, the women at the shelter, his classmates. He was 9. He was never sure what they wanted and he tried not to incriminate anyone.
Lotte, not knowing any better, fussed for her papa, not understanding he was hurting her mama and had started in on Rune. To make her happy, he sends a card with one of Lotte's drawings in it to their old house. The post office makes him put a return address on the enveelope, and that is how Papa finds them. Mama cuts herself to give Rune. a chance to run. Lotte is frozen with fear so he tries to go back for her. Their mother is unconscious and there is so much blood. Facing the fact of her death, the 2 have gone on back to the West with Papa, where Rune interposes himself between Lotte and Papa.
Rune has turned to smoking, and drugs, as well as tagging and clubbing.
Papa has a girlfriend that the kids call his Barbie. (Appropriate, in a way, since the American Barbie doll was based on a small sex doll created in Germany). The kids don't like her because their Papa has replaced Mama with someone who doesn't seem real, someone whom he treats much better.
Rune had put his portfolio in to the art institute and had been turned down. He was in possession of a letter that allowed him to get the portfolio back. Someone helps him locate the professor he seeks and he finds out his father's power was why he was turned down, when he asked what was wrong with the portfolio. They told him it was one of the best they'd ever seen. And so his father has ruined his life from the day he was born. He throws it away; there is, he believes, no chance for him to become an artist at all.

The story pings back and forth between 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, and 1999; from their escape to the East to their discovery of the diary.

Lotte had gotten the mail one morning as she was waiting for the cake she made for Rune's birthday to bake. One item is a purple composition book such as schools use. Lotte struggles with reading, so she sets it aside. Her father finds it and hand shreds it. Lotte retrieves the shredded pieces and puts them in her treasure box, and puts that into her backpack. While Papa's Barbie is driving them to school, Lotte hears on the radio about the Puzzle Women - women, and men, putting together Stasi shredded files. Lotte listens eagerly; this will be the answer to her prayers. She skips school and goes straight to the place where they work. She turns out to be quite good at the work. She makes friends. Puts together a significant part of the notebook. Rune finds her. He tries to help. But sadly, their father finds them and creates a mess. He hurts Lotte on purpose, shoving her into the car and on her way in, shoving her head into the pillar hard, and driving her home then abandoning her. Rune goes right to her but by the time he makes the trip on trains and buses and runs home, Lotte is unconscious. Rune calls an ambulance, which is slow arriving. He holds Lotte and sings to her as he hopes she will survive it. Of course, her father knows, being as he is a cop, and as Rune waits for word, his father accuses Rune of hurting Lotte. Thus, the doctor, suspecting it isn't the truth, updates him on Lotte's condition but has to let him be arrested.

Fortunately, recently the kids have been in touch with the woman who ran the shelter, which is now gone. Lotte has made a lot of friends who have gotten to know Rune, and know how much he loves Lotte. They push back, and they tell the authorities, persistently, what Rune's father did to their offices, how he burned the pages of their mother's diary and started a fire, how Rune was separared from Lotte and her father acted suspiciously, and how Rune had rushed home as fast as possible on public transport, worried sick about his sister...and what was in the journal, because they had (unknown to Lotte's & Rune's father), made copies of the journal that were far from the fire. Plus the fire destroyed public records that they were trying to put together from the Stasi, which, I believe, was considered a crime. They finally prevailed, and Rune was freed and allowed to visit Lotte. Their friends were all there.

But there is one puzzling thing their father said to Rune before the father was arrested on charges of corruption, and some evidence uncovered that perhaps their mother was still alive. Could it be possible, or are the incomplete records and the hints just red herrings from a father who takes joy in the pain of others?
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