In the late spring of 1989, Lyddie, a young American art historian, finds herself alone and pregnant when her husband, Phelps, disappears in Kurdish Iraq. Set adrift from the security of their marriage, she returns to the divided city of Berlin where they met four years before, looking for information about his past.
Now the ferment at Germany’s borders is spilling into the private lives of their old group of bohemian friends—particularly that of exiled East German painter Axel Herzog. Lyddie has always felt the pull of Axel’s art and stories of his boyhood in Greece. Though her missing husband once warned her away from Axel, the attraction grows stronger as she uncovers a vulnerability beneath the scorn he learned on the other side of the Wall. When revelations about Axel’s past send her looking for an escape from him, Lyddie finds herself running headlong into everything she has tried to avoid.
Published: September 3rd 2015
Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the author’s publicist in exchange for a review. This in no way influenced my opinion.
The blurb of Summer on the Cold War Planet appealed to me straight away when Paula Buck’s publicist sent it to me. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel about the Cold War, especially not one that is set for the most part in Germany. Being born a couple of years after the Cold War ended, I’ve always found it rather intriguing – for me it felt as if the the Iron Curtain was ancient history, while my parents had actually witnessed it not too long ago and had the feeling it’d only just ended. So, yes, I was quite excited to start reading this novel, mostly because of its interesting setting. I did quite enjoy it, although there were some parts that were a bit less convincing to me.
The story is told through the eyes of Lyddie, who is of course an outsider in West Germany and even more of an outsider to the East Germans. Through flashbacks she recounts her time as a student in Berlin, which is when she met Phelps, Axel and their two other friends, Lothar and Sabina. We know that she eventually married Phelps back in the States, but it’s kind of a mystery to me how those two got together. At one point Phelps talks about wanting to help Lyddie with getting to know “her own loveliness”, but besides it just being a bit of a weird statement, it definitely doesn’t seem like a very good basis for a marriage, so I would’ve liked a bit more of a back story on that. What was indeed very clear to me was that Phelps is very controlling and feels as if it’s his right to make some really important decisions in Lyddie’s life, which Lyddie lets him do.
It is also clear from the start, however, that Lyddie is completely infatuated with Axel, the brooding East German. I really loved the chemistry between them, although their conversations seemed a bit artificial or unnatural at times. That was a problem I had with several more relationships in the novel — sometimes it just didn’t feel very real, the way they spoke to one another.
Another thing that left me a bit unsatisfied is the way Lyddie’s husband disappeared and how this is eventually wrapped up. At the start of the novel it seems as if the disappearance of Phelps is going to be a big part of the story, but it kind of fizzles out instead. To me, it felt as if it was merely used as a device to give Lyddie a reason to return to Germany. Of course, the storyline did need some closure in the end, but its eventual wrap up was done rather half-heartedly, in my opinion.
Something I did really like was the second perspective in the story, which is the perspective of Dimitri, an old man living in a small village in Greece. At first I was a bit confused, because how on earth is this old man relevant to the story? But eventually it all becomes clear, and I love how the two storylines merge. Plus, the setting of the small seaside town in Greece is just absolutely wonderful. It also creates a lovely contrast with the more bleak Berlin setting.
Overall, I did enjoy Summer on the Cold War Planet, mostly because of its interesting setting and the different ways these characters view the Cold War and everything that’s happening around them. I definitely learned something from this novel, which was what I set out to do when I started it!