The Aftermath Summary & Study Guide

Rhidian Brook
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The Aftermath Summary & Study Guide Description

The Aftermath Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Brook, Rhidian. The Aftermath. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. Kindle Edition.

Rhidian Brook’s The Aftermath is set in postwar Germany, in the city of Hamburg in 1946. Hamburg is now occupied by the victorious British, who reduced the city to rubble in the air raids a few years ago. Abandoned structures, heaps of ash, and dead bodies cover the ground and orphaned children run through the streets, scavenging for food and shelter. It is a city in ruins, and the British are now responsible for its rebuilding, for the de-Nazification process, and the rehabilitation of its people. British government and military officials and their families arrive to run these efforts and are strictly advised in a guidebook not to fraternize with the Germans, who are still seen as the enemy. The process of interrogating the Germans who remain in Hamburg through detailed questionnaires is overseen by British intelligence officers, who determine their level of collaboration with the regime, and either designate them as clean—and eligible to live, work, and travel again—or not.

In the novel’s short opening scene, a young German orphan named Ozi leads a gang of children through the ruble, starving and lonely. The novel then turns to its protagonist: Colonel Lewis Morgan, who arrives in Hamburg to lead the rebuilding and rehabilitation efforts as governor. As per custom, he is assigned a British-requisitioned house that previously belonged to Stefan Lubert, a former German architect. But contrary to custom, Lewis decides that it would be unnecessarily cruel to turn out the Lubert family, who were likely not Nazi collaborators themselves, and send them to relatives or to a displaced persons camp like the other German homeowners, so he suggests an alternate arrangement. Unlike his colleagues, Lewis feels a responsibility towards the welfare of the defeated Germans, particularly the children and the homeless in Hamburg who were collateral damage to the war. He believes the best in people, and his policy of promoting Anglo-German harmony at work influences his decisions at home. So, when his wife Rachel and their surviving son, 11-year-old Edmund, arrive at Villa Lubert they discover that they will be forced to live under the same roof as Stefan and his 15-year-old daughter Freda.

The Morgans are grieving the loss of their older son Michael, who was killed by a German bomb, and the Luberts are grieving the loss of Stefan’s wife, Freda’s mother, Claudia, who was killed in the British air raids several years ago. Rachel, who has retreated into distant isolation and is now prone to crying spells, and Freda, who is now rebellious and angry, both resent the living arrangements, feeling as though they are now sharing a home with the enemy. Tensions are immediately high in the household, and the novel plays out by depicting these domestic dynamics as a microcosm to the outside world, in which Anglo-German relations are strained but slowly on the mend, due to the efforts of men like Colonel Morgan.

Gradually, boundaries are crossed, both inside and out. Freda and Edmund interact in several odd scenarios at home. Edmund, following in the footsteps of his father, begins helping the orphaned children led by Ozi by bringing them cigarettes and other goods that they can trade on the black market. Freda meets a young man named Albert, who draws her into an underground resistance group of insurgents bearing the mark of 88, which is an alphabetical code for HH, Heil Hitler, and promises to bring information back to him about Colonel Morgan. Later, she brings classified documents she stole from Colonel Morgan’s possession to Albert, and after they have sex, she asks to be branded with an 88 symbol to mark her allegiance, feeling connected with her mother, who died in the fire raid, as his cigarette burns into her skin. Meanwhile, Rachel and Lewis struggle to reconnect sexually, both so emotionally distant from their time apart during the war and the different way they are handling the loss of their son. Amidst this estranged dynamic, Rachel begins to form a connection with Stefan Lubert. She appreciates his ability to see through the mask of poise and prejudice that she wears to hide her grief and they relate in their shared experience of loss. When Lewis is sent on an assignment in Heligoland, this gives them the emotional and physical space they need to begin an affair. While Lewis recognizes his negligence towards his wife and son, he retreats into his work, where he feels confidant and sure of his responsibility. He orders his subordinates to fraternize with the Germans, to get to know their needs, and strives to find ways to alleviate their suffering and allow the nation to heal and move forward. He even finds himself indulging in a flirtation with a beautiful German woman he hires as his interpreter, however this does not develop any further. Lewis feels as though the task of helping thousands of defeated, humiliated, crushed Germans is less daunting than rebuilding his marriage and reconnecting with his remaining son.

The novel reaches its climax when Lewis’s second-in-command, Captain Barker, drops off a handful of files for Lewis when he returns. Rachel sifts through these papers and is stunned when she sees a missing person’s report: a woman with amnesia, who claims her name is Claudia, is recovering from her injuries at a Franciscan hospital. Stefan Lubert’s wife is alive after all. When Rachel and Stefan go to his hometown for a romantic weekend getaway, under the guise of false names, she shows him the document. Later, he goes to the hospital and sees that it really is her. And in the meantime, Ozi—who we discover is Albert’s younger brother—acquires a gun for his brother Berti. He tries to convince his brother not to hurt the Tommies, who he has learned are not that bad. But Albert, deeply angry from the loss of his family and friends in the war, desperately seeks revenge.

While Lewis is on his way home, he is stunned when a bullet is shot through the passenger seat window, killing his colleague Barker. He runs after the culprit, and watches as the teenage man (who the reader recognizes as Albert) drowns in the river after the ice cracks beneath him. Just before Albert died, he shouted out that he knew Freda. Now Lewis knows he has naively trusted the wrong people and allowed danger into his own home. Deeply shaken, Lewis crumbles under the realization that he may have been wrong about everything. He is disillusioned by his mission in Hamburg and his grief for his friend—and his lost son—pours out of him. Rachel and Edmund both comfort him, and they are brought together through this event. He gains the courage he needs to get back out and goes to headquarters. Freda has been arrested and is set to be executed. The novel closes with one final act of forgiveness, and Lewis arranges for her release—who he discovers is pregnant with Albert’s child—and brings her to see her mother, believing that this will rehabilitate the angry young girl’s psyche and remove her desire for vengeance. In the final chapters, the reader learns that the Lubert family has been reunited and that Claudia has inspired Stefan to begin practicing architecture again and participate in the reconstruction of Hamburg, and he finally receives his clearance from the British that will allow him to be free and work again, and to rebuild his life.

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