Review published on May 3, 2017.
The Hoffmann family moves to the German administered colony of South West Africa (present day Namibia) in 1902. Ingrid is the more extrovert daughter, who sees excitement in all things, whilst older sibling Margerete is more sensitive and prone to bouts of hysterics.
Having bought a farm on a large plot of land, Herr Hoffmann has caused the previous owner, Baron von Ketz, to leave with his wife and son Emil for a lowly neighbouring home.
Servants Nora and her son Hans are part of the family, although the adults view all ‘natives’ with the typical prejudice of the time (‘Blacks as furniture’ – ‘ you lot with leather skirts and bones through your nose’ etc.), so be prepared for explicitly worded dialogue from the colonists.
When tragedy strikes and Margarete begins having a breakdown as spending time with the von Ketz family has worrying undercurrents, the family leaves Africa to return to Germany.
Leaving behind a native uprising, they find Berlin heading towards a time of instability and political fragmentation.
The author has immersed himself into the mind of young Ingrid as she grows from naivety to young adult despair and rejection. All set against a period of pioneering German history that sees the old ways threatened by many new ideas and beliefs.
A great personal read by an unknown author and one that would be very interesting and thought provoking for book groups.
Philipa Coughlan 4/5
The Other Hoffmann Sister by Ben Fergusson
Little, Brown 9781408708897 hbk May 2017
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