The House by the Lake, by Thomas Harding (2015, 2016)

The House by the Lake In 1993, Thomas Harding and his grandmother travelled to Germany to visit the family’s former lakeside home, a cottage by the lake built in the 1920s by his grandfather, a successful Jewish doctor. The house was a haven for the family, an idyllic place to relax and play away from their busy lives in Berlin some 20 kilometres away. The Alexander family lost the property when they fled to England during the Nazi era, and it was subsequently bought for a song by the German music publisher Will Meisel. Meisel lost the property when officials scrutinised his purchase during a “denazification” effort by the post-war leaders in East Germany, and it became the property of local government, which issued permits for tenant residency. Two families shared it at one point, and its lovely lines were marred by a builder more determined than skilled. Still, it remained a happy place to raise a family with the sound of children splashing in the lake every summer. Until 1962, when the Berlin Wall went up literally in the backyard, cutting off access to the lake which served as a border between East and West Germany. This is the story of the people who lived in the lake house, but it’s also the story of 20th century Germany. Eminently readable, Harding’s narrative is a fascinating history/personal memoir of a remarkable place during a pivotal time. He draws from archival material, newspaper articles and personal documents to tell the story of, as the subtitle says, “one house, five families, and a hundred years of German history.” While the text itself lacks footnoting, lamentably, there is an excellent set of end notes referring to the specific pages, an extensive bibliography, and an impressive comprehensive index. Highly recommended. My thanks to publisher Macmillan-Picador for the advance reading copy provided through NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.
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About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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