Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday, 5 March 2015

The Leipzig Affair - Fiona Rintoul


The year is 1985. East Germany is in the grip of communism. Magda, a brilliant but disillusioned young linguist, is desperate to flee to the West. When a black market deal brings her into contact with Robert, a young Scot studying at Leipzig University, she sees a way to realise her escape plans. But as Robert falls in love with her, he stumbles into a complex world of shifting half-truths – one that will undo them both.
Many years later, long after the Berlin Wall has been torn down, Robert returns to Leipzig in search of answers. Can he track down the elusive Magda?
And will the past give up its secrets?


'It's another world over there.'

I loved this novel, it had me gripped all the way through. The setting and time period is one that I find fascinating having studied German, and I do enjoy/find intriguing a lot of fiction that involves events surrounding the Berlin Wall and the former East Germany. Fiona Rintoul has created two captivating main characters in Magda and Robert. She creates tension and suspense, and really conveys the atmosphere and secrecy of the times. Magda is studying interpreting in Leipzig, East Germany, in 1985, but is disillusioned with life and politics there, and wants to leave and get to the West. Robert is a student at St Andrews, and events see him ending up in Leipzig and meeting Magda, getting to know some of her friends, and becoming involved in her complicated world.

The story is told in alternating chapters with Robert's story recounted in the first person, and Magda's told in the second person. I thought these points of view worked successfully here. I felt Robert's character was fleshed out particularly well; his personal weaknesses and the moments from his business career added depth and dimension to the story. The novel concentrates not only on those days back in 1985, but also takes us to the present, with the Berlin Wall having fallen and Robert finally revisiting Leipzig, and I was excited and nervous to travel with him there once more and discover what, and who, he would find there this time.

I felt absorbed in the tale as I read and I also felt that the author knew her stuff regarding the background and setting of her novel, and that she wrote in a balanced way about this period of Germany's history. Though Magda and many others like her felt determined, desperate to flee to the West from the GDR, and were very disillusioned by the country, the Stasi surveillance, the way some people were treated such as the tragedy that befalls Magda's brother, nevertheless many people also looked back at their former country with a certain amount of regret once it was gone. This is captured particularly well in a conversation between Magda and her father, after the regime has come to an end:

'"Personally, I think we've paid a very heavy price to have bananas in the shops and shiny new cars on every street corner. I look around me and I see young people with no jobs and no hope. I see homeless people. Did you ever see a homeless person in our Republic?..."
He's jutting his chin out again. It's odd. You agree with much of what he says. It's true that things are not so wonderful in the the new Germany. The West Germans are arrogant. They think they know it all. People like you have become strangers in their own country. Everything from the past has been swept away, whether it was good or bad, without anyone asking if that's what the people want.'

It's sad to read that 'all the dreams from 1989 of building a better kind of GDR, creating a new kind of socialism, are long forgotten.' Fiona Rintoul gives us a picture of the hope and then the reality that many felt hit them after reunification.

I thought The Leipzig Affair was a really enjoyable, gripping read, well-written throughout. I'm really glad I read it and I will definitely be watching out for more works by this author.

Review copy received via amazon vine


  1. Great review.

    I had heard good things about this from several sources.

    The irony of people wanting to escape a horrible situation only to encounter troubles adjusting after they escape it rings true. It also makes for good stories.

  2. This does sound interesting. I know very little about life in East Germany though I do remember the wall coming down. I'll have to look for this one. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I haven't read too many books set in this time period, but not for lack of interest. I like the sound of this book--the intrigue and the characters. I am adding this to my wish list. Thank you, Lindsay!

  4. Ooooohhhh ,this one sounds good. I don't read much from this time period so this one sounds like a great one to introduce it to me. Great review!


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