The Dark Room

Publisher: Vintage Canada
In The Dark Room, the experiences of three people are evoked with stunning emotional depth and psychological authenticity.

A boy born with a physical deformity finds work as a photographer's assistant during the 1930s and captures on film the changing temper of Berlin, the city he loves. But his acute photographic eye never provides him with the power to understand the significance of what he sees through his camera. In the weeks following Germany's surrender, a teenage girl whose parents are both in Allied captivity takes her younger siblings on a terrifying, illegal journey through the four zones of occupation in search of her grandmother. Many years after the event, a young man trying to discover why the Russians imprisoned his grandfather for nine years after the war meets resistance at every turn; the only person who agrees, reluctantly, to help him has his own tainted past to contend with.

With dazzling originality and to profound effect, Rachel Seiffert has recreated one of the darkest moments of the twentieth century.

From the Hardcover edition.


Part One

Berlin, april 1921

Birth. His mother cuddles him and cradles him and feeds him his first meal. Happy to hold this life she has felt within her all these months. He is a little premature, but not too small, and his miniature fists grip fast to her fingers. She knows him already, and loves...
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1. What does Seiffert imply about the relationship of the individual to the atrocities? Do Helmut, Lore and Micha’s responses to their situations differ according to their proximity to the events?

2. ‘I am a camera. I see the world from one particular standpoint, and my interpretation of events is...

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"Rachel Seiffert writes movingly about three generations of Germans confined by selective blindness and silence: a patriotic photographer who limits his vision to the eye of the camera; a courageous refugee girl who stays focused on her own family's suffering; and a teacher who is compelled and yet terrified to pursue his search for the truth. Outstanding." -- Ursula Hegi, author of Stones from the River

"The dark room of this book's title is both a literal darkroom of a photographer and a metaphor for a place in which things are both invisible and partially visible, that place being Germany and its recent history. Rachel Seiffert's storytelling is completely absorbing and finally overwhelming in its detail, its relentless action, and its beautiful, shy eloquence. The Dark Room, in its strategies for approaching the unwatchable, the unseeable, is brilliant, and in its closing pages, it brings to light a set of images that no reader is ever likely to forget." -- Charles Baxter, author of Feast of Love

“[A] stunning debut novel…Seiffert writes with such extraordinary elegance that it takes your breath away. Her voice stings with aching precision yet possesses a glorious innocence that can trouble the simplest of words. The effortlessness of her language is remarkable given the complexity of perpectives she entertains…The tension of being implicitly involved in a history one did not necessarily condone is stretched agonizingly taut through Seiffert’s quiet exploration of the subtle complexities of competing perceptions within a self, within a family, within a nation.” -- Camilla Gibb, Globe and Mail

“It’s a painful subject and no less so in Seiffert’s handling of it. The reading itself, though, is easy. The airiness of Seiffert’s prose, her deft management of the present tense, makes the narrator -- even the page -- disappear. In The Dark Room reading is more like watching -- through the lens of a camera…Although she is loath to comment, the very structure of her novel…reminds us that history is composed of our individual stories.” -- Toronto Star

“[An] ambitious and powerful first novel…Seiffert writes lean, clean prose. Deftly, she hangs large ideas on the vivid private experiences of her principal characters.” -- New York Times

“Seiffert’s The Dark Room reminds me of Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader, but unlike that …[book], The Dark Room never veers away from its ficitonal roots. The ability to internalize her research and make it so much a part of the background that it barely shows through is one of the great strengths of The Dark Room. It doesn’t read like a first novel…It would be easier for all of us simply to get on with the present and leave the past to moulder. That would be not only wrong, but dangerous, which is yet another reason to read The Dark Room.” -- Sandra Martin, Globe and Mail

"This extraordinary novel is suffused with pain… an important book…a powerful commentary on the moral issues of the last century" -- Sunday Express

“[A] page-turner of a first book…. Not only does [Seiffert] fully address one of the most dismal episodes in human history, but she does so with a nuanced approach that encourages insight even as it prompts debate.” -- The Vancouver Sun

“Exquisite…. [A] beautifully written, elegant and emotional trilogy of theme-linked chronicles, Seiffert sifts the layers of guilt and denial which permeated German society at the end of the Second World War, layers that began to shift and change with succeeding generations. The Dark Room belongs in…exalted company, as Seiffert manages to balance grim reality with the tenuous optimism which defines most human experience.” -- The London Free Press

“[M]agnetic…a great first novel…that deserves to go into the album of high art. [The Dark Room] is gripping storytelling of tremendous force.” -- The Edmonton Journal

From the Hardcover edition.