Set in the immediate aftermath of World War II, the novel portrays the turmoil and violence in Europe. Hannah Muller, a Bauhaus artist blacklisted by the Nazis, ekes out a living by painting portraits of the elite of the Third Reich. The only reason she isn’t put in a concentration camp by the Gestapo is the covert intervention of her uncle Werner von Thyssen, one of the foremost of Nazi philosophers who helped Hitler and his subordinates with the creation and implementation of plans for the Holocaust. Hannah, cheered by the news of Germany’s defeat and Hitler’s death, looks forward to a new life of freedom—only to encounter rape and brutality by the Russians and coldness and ostracization by the Americans. Luckily, she meets two men who prove decisive influences in her life: Eric, a prosecutor in the Nuremberg Trial, and Daniel, a death-camp escapee. Both men have obsessions: Eric wants to find the origins of the Holocaust, specifically the blueprint that authorized and facilitated ghettoization and mass murder; Daniel wants to create a state for Jews, and works hard to achieve that end. Both men are in love with Hannah and think they’ve won her, but Hannah eludes them, after initially yielding to them, and strikes out on her own to achieve her artistic goals. “Each nation has its own hell,” she reflects, as she migrates from Europe to America and is pulled into conflicts revolving around race or political ideology; and at the end of the novel, Hannah, disgusted after reading the secret diaries of her uncle Werner which detail the inevitable steps that lead to the Holocaust, flees the old and the new worlds to find the artistic freedom that has been her lifelong quest.
Prasad paints the postwar world with broad, sweeping strokes and painfully accurate details in this accomplished novel. Middle-aged Hannah Muller, living in Berlin, has an ideal Aryan appearance, but she was blacklisted by the Nazis as an open-minded German artist. After Germany is divided among the victors, Hannah grows numb as she’s repeatedly raped by occupying Russians. Her life changes when she’s wooed by Eric Grossman, a young Jewish American who has come to work at the Nuremberg trials. Although “conflict... seemed to pursue her like the Greek Furies wherever she went,” Hannah, desperate for work, finds it creating artistic propaganda for the Russians and then for the Americans, and her painting talents are enhanced by her abilities as a multilingual translator. She attends Nuremberg and other trials with Eric, who has gained permission from the military to work as a lawyer and is seeking information about the Nazis’ plan to conquer Eastern Europe and exterminate the Jews. Eventually, she travels to the U.S. with him; in America, she finds bigotry against Germans and panic about the Red Scare, and she contemplates contradictory ideologies of various nationalities before returning to Germany. Prasad’s novel, tightly written and comprehensive, provides readers with a powerful meditation on the aftermath of the Holocaust. (BookLife)