This merging of the stories of two distinct families from different locations and times into one interacting tale of misery, fear, hate and hurt, resolves the unfolding drama in a most satisfactory way. Between their two stories are common themes – fear of imposed authority and abuse of power. These themes drive characters and events onward towards the inevitable end.
The Freemans are a dysfunctional family, with no permanent father figure, a mother who seeks comfort in drink and dubious liaisons, two young adult sons who pretend to work but prefer to deal, the older daughter who ran away from home years ago, and Serena, a young girl who is targeted by the town’s sexual predator but cannot face revealing this.
The Kleins are a family of mother and daughter, the last of a family of refugees from post-Cold War East Germany – Leipzig. Since arriving in New Zealand, age has taken the father, Oma and Opa (grandma and grandad), leaving Gerda, a former maternity nurse, still believing sometimes that old Russian-controlled Leipzig was a better place, but sometimes wracked with guilt by the discoveries of what the Russian Stasi had been doing to the populace without her knowing. Her daughter Ilse teaches at the local secondary school, and has been nurturing Serena’s unrecognized scholastic ability, giving her hope of getting away to university.
The story’s swimming refers to the river, a gathering place for teens and families in summer, and Ilse’s place for swimming alone at night. Serena realizes the teens are being watched by a respected member of the community from the bridge, but she feels uncomfortable. His attention towards her escalates to the level of sexual abuse, and rape. She hides the resulting pregnancy as long as she can. Ilse, out one evening for her usual swim, discovers Serena in the beginning stages of labour, alone, frightened and in pain. Taking Serena back home to Ilse, Serena is terrified to let anyone know, so Gerda draws on her skills to successfully deliver Serena’s baby.
The rapist father, still watching for her, discovers where she is in hiding. How Ilse and Gerda deal with his aggressive arrival in their home is a triumph of rights over fear and victimization, leaving this reviewer wanting to yell in triumph. The story’s conclusion leaves the right characters in the right situation for each, in a quietly triumphant ending.
Publishing: 2014, Upstart Press, Auckland NZ; paperback
Reviewed for Booksellers NZ
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