The Vanishing Sky reveals the German home front as I’ve never seen it in fiction, a small town where nobody asks questions or unburdens herself, so that neighbors who’ve known one another all their lives are strangers ... Binding tells her story patiently, like an artist placing tiny pieces into a mosaic; this literary novel isn’t one to race through. But I find it gripping, powerful, and a brave narrative, unsparing in its honesty.
L. Annette Binder piercingly describes the mood of the inhabitants of the small Bavarian city of Wurzburg, just weeks before World War II ended ... The Vanishing Sky paints a haunting portrait of a nation slowly collapsing. The story is gripping, and the characters are fully realized, flawed individuals ... by making the fictional setting so generic, Binder, a prize-winning short story writer, hoped to explain how her father was able to participate in such mass cruelty. Under similar authoritarian control, how many readers of any nationality would have had the courage to resist? Yet there’s something troubling about the idea of ignoring the extreme evil of the Third Reich. If this novel aims for universality, then it’s important also to remember that many 'ordinary' German adults—not just impressionable teenagers, not just cowed victims—avidly cheered Hitler and beat up their Jewish neighbors, long before Nazi control was firmly in place. Indeed, they voted for him in 1932 when Germany was still a democracy.
At a moment when American readers uneasily watch our own leaders stoke ethnic and religious tensions—often to tragic ends—in a way that we have not quite seen before in our lifetimes, the Hubers’ story feels particularly revelatory. Binder is a deft writer with a gift for choosing vocabulary that elevates the observations of normal people into carefully rendered art ... The Vanishing Sky tells a tragic story, but it also serves as a meditation on tragedy and the everyday cruelty by which tragedy is so often begotten ... Some of the book’s most poignant insights into the human capacity for evil come through the scarce passages narrated from Josef’s perspective, which reveal how his childlike desire for respect and belonging contribute to the confused old schoolmaster’s embrace of Nazi ideology—to the great detriment of his family. Despite its many strengths, The Vanishing Sky ends on a relatively weak note ... Nevertheless, The Vanishing Sky is a moving and worthwhile read, albeit not a happy one. The novel is artfully written, and Binder’s insights into extreme nationalism make it particularly relevant today.
L. Annette Binder’s sad, intimate first novel, The Vanishing Sky, conveys a sense of Germany at the tail end of World War II, as seen primarily through the experiences of one family from Heidenfeld, near the city of Würzburg ... Josef, a stick figure who never really comes alive in the book...is almost a caricature of the German sensibility: rigid and unfeeling ... Binder creates a believable, lost world with Etta and Georg. The ending is inevitable, and we are left with an overriding—and poignant—sense of loss.
Binder provides a family’s-eye view of the terror and trauma, offering readers a unique perspective on the war. The narration closely follows Etta and Georg in turns, delivering the details of privation and fear as well as surprising moments of kinship and generosity with an unforgettable grace ... A masterful story of war, horror, and love.
Binder, who left Germany for the U.S. as a child, based her book partly on her father’s experiences in the Hitler Youth organization and on her paternal grandfather’s journals from between the wars, and describes the war’s toll on German soldiers and civilians while lingering on an eerie, subtle irony in descriptions of Jews, Roma, gays, and people with mental illnesses, whose dire circumstances their neighbors were blissfully unaware of. This provides a fresh take on the madness of war.