In the throes of the Second World War, young Meissner, a college student with dreams of becoming a scientist, is drafted into the German army and sent to the Eastern Front. But soon his regiment collapses in the face of the onslaught of the Red Army, hell-bent on revenge in its race to Berlin. Many decades later, now an old man reckoning with his past, Meissner pens a letter to his grandson explaining his actions, his guilt as a Nazi participator, and the difficulty of life after war. This novel recounts the terrors of war on the Eastern Front, and a postwar ordinary life in search of atonement.
Starritt’s prose is riveting. It unspools like a roll of film — raw, visceral and propulsive, rich with sensory detail and unsparing in its depictions of cruelty. His account of the war in the East is shockingly gruesome ... As I struggle to make sense of the polarized world we live in today, We Germans feels eerily timely. Meissner’s and Callum’s puzzlements are ours: How do we hold ourselves — and our ancestors — accountable for past wrongs? How do we acknowledge and atone for a nation’s violations? Starritt’s daring work challenges us to lay bare our histories, to seek answers from the past and to be open to perspectives starkly different from our own.
Daringly, in what is only his second novel, Alexander Starritt climbs into the skin of one of the most appalling archetypes of the 20th century: a Nazi soldier as he marauds across eastern Europe during the second world war ... Starritt’s slim, taut novel takes the form of a letter written by an elderly German war veteran to his British grandson, Callum. At times the book clanks against the sides of this somewhat contrived structure, but it does permit an indirect dialogue to develop as Callum adds his own notes to the story ... Starritt’s descriptions of conflict are shocking. But he becomes less sure-footed when the two characters start moralising about war ... But, as Meissner recalls, the war always remained buried within him, only to resurface in unexpected and traumatising ways. Blue-black plums, dangling from a branch, remind him of hanged civilians in wartime villages. Just one of many haunting images from Starritt to pierce the semi-romantic mythology that, in Britain and the US at least, now enshrouds the war.
Scottish-German writer Starritt (The Beast) unearths the horrors of the eastern front in WWII Poland through a letter written by a veteran of the German army to his grandson in this thoughtful, unsettling chronicle ... Starritt’s gritty depictions of the horrors of war and the moral choices faced by soldiers add intensity to the ruminations on courage. This is a fascinatingly enigmatic addition to the literature of Germany’s coming to terms with the past.