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The Roses Underneath

The Roses Underneath, February 2014
by C.F. Yetmen

Other Press
Featuring: Anna Klein; Amalia Klein
418 pages
ISBN: 0615868363
EAN: 9780615868363
Kindle: B00HYNDCDS
Trade Size / e-Book
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"An absorbing story of stolen art and shattered families"

Fresh Fiction Review

The Roses Underneath
C.F. Yetmen

Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted March 9, 2014

Fiction | Historical

Shortly after the Second World War has ended, six-year-old Amalia Klein skips through the rubble and grime of Wiesbaden, clutching her one doll. American troops are on the street and women queue quietly for milk. "This is the landscape of her childhood," thinks her mother Anna in this absorbing story.

THE ROSES UNDERNEATH shows the painstaking work of documenting possessions left by displaced people, as Anna fills out forms in a museum. She speaks English which makes her useful to the Monuments Men of the American army. Baroque chairs, silver cups, carpets, all have to be itemised. So many homes have been destroyed, and so many people dispossessed, that Anna wonders if it can ever be completed. Her husband, a doctor, stayed in their town of Thuringia, now in the hands of the Russians. She doesn't know if they'll see him again. Between hunger, illness and tattered clothing, Anna's only hope is to go along with the American officers - who seek art looted by the Nazis.

Captain Cooper gets Anna assigned to him as navigator, translator and go-between for his drives around, which raises her wages and provides her with lunch. She distrusts his motives, understanding the worth of art since her uncle was an art dealer, but expecting that the Americans will - just as the Nazis did - strip her country of valuables and ship her heritage away wholesale. All she'll be left with is the bombsites and ragged bony children. Cooper tries to change her views, but is he sincere? And what of his comrades?

The uncertainty and deprivation are unremitting, so that we constantly feel grit in the air and see sour suspicion on the faces of peasants. Anna is accused of being a Nazi and then of being a communist, the latter enough to have her barred from the museum work. She is obliged to leave little Amalia with strangers in order to attend her job, and through her eyes we see orphaned children in a United Nations refugee camp. Nobody has easy choices to make. While the tale centres on paintings found at a villa, the symbolic wealth of a defeated nation's heritage forms the centre of THE ROSES UNDERNEATH. The future of Anna's family is at stake, reflecting the turmoil felt across Europe. CF Yetmen has written a memorable story, which will strike a chord in many hearts.

Learn more about The Roses Underneath

SUMMARY

August 1945, Wiesbaden, Germany.

With the country in ruins, Anna Klein, displaced and separated from her beloved husband, struggles to support herself and her six-year old daughter Amalia. Her typing job at the Collecting Point for the US Army's Monuments Men is the only thing keeping her afloat. Charged with securing Nazi-looted art and rebuilding Germany's monuments, the Americans are on the hunt for stolen treasures. But after the horrors of the war, Anna wants only to hide from the truth and rebuild a life with her family.

When the easy-going architect Captain Henry Cooper recruits her as his reluctant translator, the two of them stumble on a mysterious stash of art in a villa outside of town. Cooper's penchant for breaking the rules capsizes Anna's tenuous security and propels her into a search for elusive truth and justice in a world where everyone is hiding something.

In her debut novel, C.F. Yetmen tells a story of loss and reconciliation in a shattered world coming to terms with war and its aftermath.

Excerpt

Emerging on the Adolfsallee, they turned left toward the Wiesbaden town center, Amalia taking off in a half-skip, half-run. People were out and about, beginning daily tasks of cleaning, clearing rubble, finding food, securing work or just walking the streets in search of something. A line of women—pails in hand—had already formed where the milk truck sometimes appeared. The Allied bombs had been comparatively gentle on Wiesbaden, but that was just a relative notion. Bombs were bombs. Anna watched Amalia jump over holes in the sidewalk, her green dress bouncing in the dust clouds she kicked up. This is the landscape of her childhood, Anna thought. Mountains of rubble and rivers of blood. The girl was only six and had seen so much misery and stomached horrible fear, and Anna worried that more was to come. The war had been over for three months already, but what had replaced it? What were they living in? A sort of provisional purgatory, she thought, with occupiers who had to sort the bad from the good, the guilty from the innocent, the past from the future. We are damned; we unleashed hell on the world. And now we Germans must make good. She thought this every day. But to make amends for monstrosities perpetrated in your name and with your complicity, even if it was coerced? Was it even possible?

“Mama, look.” Amalia was pointing at something on the ground and beckoning. As Anna approached, she saw what had caught Amalia’s eye. Gleaming in the sunlight was a large metal button, the kind found on a Loden jacket or a dirndl or some other traditional dress, the kind the Nazis had been so fond of the German Volk wearing. It was heart-shaped and stamped with a scroll pattern. “Can I take it?” whispered Amalia, her eyes beaming as if she had found buried treasure. Which, Anna thought, she had, in a way.

“Yes, you may,” said Anna, joining in the spirit. “What a prize.” Amalia picked up the button, now black with grime and held it on her flat palm.

“Can we wash it, Mama? So it will shine?”

“Yes of course, little Maus,” said Anna. “Now put it in your pocket and keep it safe. We need to hurry.”

Amalia slipped her hand into her mother’s and they walked on between the piles of stones that lay like sleeping prehistoric creatures along the street. Anna imagined them hibernating, waiting until they could be reanimated into something new, something hopeful. As they approached the Rheinstrasse, the bustle of the city flowed along the main thoroughfare and the Bonifazius church glowed in the morning sun, Gothic spires flanking its bombed out sanctuary like two sentries. The American MP directing traffic at the intersection whistled and motioned for them to cross. They turned and walked east into the sun, joining the people heading to whatever jobs they were lucky enough to have. Nearing the large, looming Landesmuseum, where the Americans had set up shop, they walked along the newly installed chain-link fence with the barbed wire on top until they came to the guard at the workers’ entry outside the rear courtyard. The sign read U.S. Army Monuments, Fine Art and Archives, and the young soldier standing at the entrance looked as earnest and rigid as a statue himself. Anna sat Amalia down on a bench next to the gate.

“Listen to me, Maus.” Anna squatted down. “Do you remember what I said? You wait here until I come out and get you. And what will you say if anyone asks you why you are here?”

Amalia exhaled and flatly recited the words: “My name is Amalia Klein. My Mutter ist Anna Klein. She ist in there. I wait for her?” She pointed at the building.

“Mother, not Mutter,” said Anna, stroking the blond hair that threatened to escape from Amalia’s braids. “Mother.”

“Mother,” said Amalia. She pulled the button from her pocket and studied it with scientific intensity.

Anna’s stomach clenched. She wished she had some choice other than leaving her daughter here, on a bench on the sidewalk. But she didn’t. “Look, Maus.” She pointed at the GI. “See that American? I bet he comes from Texas, from the Wild West. Maybe he is the sheriff of his town and he has a big horse and he keeps all the bad guys away. That’s probably why he’s standing guard here now. What do you think?”

They stole a glance at the bulldog of a GI. His face was young but worn and tired. His white MP helmet was balanced precariously on his head, which seemed too large for his short, square body. The name on his uniform said Long, which almost made Anna smile.

“So he’s going to need your help keeping bad guys out of the museum while Mama goes to work.” Anna turned Amalia to face the three-story building and pointed to the top floor. “Count three windows from the end and that’s where I’ll be. I’ll be watching you all the time while I am doing my job. Your job is to sit quietly here.”

“But how long will you take, Mama?”

“Not long, only until lunchtime. Do you promise you won’t move? You have Lulu to keep you company.”

A pile of trash rained down from an upper window. GIs and German workers dodged the periodic showers of debris, old blankets, mattresses, pieces of wood, and building materials. These were the remnants of the hundreds of displaced people who had sought shelter in the museum at the end of the war. Now it would house the new offices of the Americans they called the Monuments Men. Anna was not altogether sure what their job was, it seemed to have something to do with returning items to people. But they had needed English speakers and typists and to her great good fortune, she was adept at both.


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