Review of ‘Acts of Contrition’ by Elena Graf
When Elena Graf sends you an advanced copy of her latest novel in the ‘Passing Rites’ series I know that while doing a little happy dance in front of the computer, she will – as soon as I start reading – rip out my heart, stomp on it a few times and then meticulously put it back together again. And when you come out the other end that poor abused organ feels lighter and fuller at the same time. That is what her writing does to me. You just cannot read ‘Acts of Contrition’ and not be moved to the core. Graf is one of the few authors I would willingly crawl through a sea of broken glass just to silently bleed in her shadow. Dramatic I know, but she is that magnificent.
What I love first and foremost about the series is the formidable Countess Stahle, or Margarethe von Stahle, Reichsgräfin von Langenberg-Edelheim, Gräfin von u. zu Raithschau, Baronin von Leichthal if you want to be precise. She is strong, proud, brilliantly gifted, stubborn, loyal, old school, German to the core and one of the best characters I’ve come across in a long time. Through the skill of the author Margarethe (as well as the others) has stepped off the pages and feels very much alive to me. Like I could go and look her up on Wikipedia. I am comforted in the knowledge that Graf is working on a prequel so I don’t have to say goodbye just yet.
Now I want to tell youso much about the book, but after seeing the blurb has been kept purposely vague I’m certain I can’t spill any beans. It would spoil the experience. Just know that it is an epic journey (if you haven’t read ‘Occasions of Sin’ and ‘Lies of Omission’, you need to go and do that first). There are unspeakable loss, trauma, and hardship but also hope and love and resilience. The aftermath of World War II and the effect it had on the German population is not a story portrayed too often. You know what they say, history is recorded through the eyes of the victor. Elena Graf gives a chilling account of what happened in Berlin with great historical accuracy and detail. I’ve learned a lot and I’m always thankful when an author can give me that gift.
Oh and I almost forgot to tell you about the music. Music is running through the series as a red thread. It is how Margarethe expresses herself best. I was fortunate enough the author provided me with a playlist of all the songs that feature in this book. Here is the playlist on YouTube to get an almost 3d experience!
f/f, trigger warning for a rape scene
Themes: aftermath of WWII, Berlin in ruins, loss, the Russian ‘liberators’, the Allied forces, the strong women of Germany, I weep for Edelheim, and I want a Grauer for myself (or a Krauss), to have lost and love again, Margarethe rises like a phoenix from the ashes, I was up at all hours because I could not put this book down, all threads were neatly tied up, epic and compelling storytelling. A formidable lesbian historical fiction novel.
* An ARC was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.