“The Recent East” by Thomas Grattan— Identity, Displacement, Family, Belonging

Grattan, Thomas. “The Recent East”, MCD, 2021.

Identity, Displacement, Family, Belonging

Amos Lassen

In his first novel, Thomas Grattan takes us back to shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Beate Haas defected from East Germany as a child and has now been notified that her parents’ abandoned mansion is available for her to reclaim. She is recently divorced and eager to escape her mundane life in upstate New York, where she moved as an adult and with her two children, she arrives to find a place  that has become a ghost town. The move hurts the siblings’ close relationship. Michael who is free to be gay, begins robbing empty houses and partying with young anarchists and Adela becomes fascinated with the of the Holocaust and reads whatever she can on the subject and  becomes close to a previously unknown cousin. As time passes, the town changes from a dismantled city and becomes a haven for refugees and a place for neo-Nazis and then becomes a seaside resort town.  As they are surrounded by change, the family faces violence that forever will define the family. 

Grattan gives us a look at whatit means to leave home, and what it means to return as seen and experienced through a family that is deeply affected by displacement and loss. Both sad and life-affirming, he reminds us of  what it takes to find ourselves at home. Here is a look at Germany as it was in the late 20thcentury and still dealing with the legacy of war. As we read, we learn to better see ourselves as who we are and how we fit into the world of today. We move back and forth over time as we experience (not just read) a queer story of coming-of-age that makes us laugh and scares us at the same time. We get a look atCold War-era Germany both as a memory and as an actual place through the eyes of wonderfully created characters who share themselves in all off their intimacies against the backdrop of political and cultural change and immigration.

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