“In the Full Light of the Sun” by Clare Clark— Three Berliners


Clark, Clare, “In the Full Light of the Sun”,  Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2019.

Three Berliners

Amos Lassen

Berlin in the 1920s is  hedonistic and experiencing political turbulence. It is a city of seedy night clubs and wonderful art galleries, home to millionaires and mobs who are storming bakeries for bread, a rationed commodity. Emmeline, a young art student; Julius, an art expert; and a mysterious dealer named Rachmann find themselves caught up in the amazing discovery of thirty-two previously unknown paintings by Vincent van Gogh.

“In the Full Light of the Sun” writer Clare Clark explores the trio’s complex relationships and motivations, their hopes, their vanities, and their self-delusions. The paintings are fakes and each of the three Berliners are in their own ways complicit. Their stories are a cautionary tale about of the aspirations of the new Germany and a generation that is  determined to put the humiliations of the past behind them. This is a novel about beauty and justice, and the truth that may be found when our most treasured beliefs are revealed as illusions. 

We read of the decadence of Weimar Berlin and the impending Nazi menace through characters’ experience struggles filled with intrigue. Clark fictionalizes the Wacker affair in her story story about art, artifice and authenticity. Politics, love and art offer no certainties, and the ground constantly seems to fall away as the characters walk upon it.

The book is very well-written but not an easy read for those not familiar with the times – social, economic, and political – as well as the intricacies of the art trade. Nonetheless, “In the Full Light of the Sun” is oe of my my favorite books of 2019. We really see Nazi Germany as it begins to rise and how quickly things got bad for Jews. This is not a happy book, it actually was quite hard to read at times because of its subject. Telling the story through the three characters works beautifully.

This is not a novel for everybody. It is literary fiction, and although it has elements of historical fiction. Those who love books that move fast and are heavy on plot, rather than characters and atmosphere, might find this a slow read