News from Berlin
Diplomats, the entanglements of love and a big secret
Bern, June 1941. Dutch diplomat Oscar Verschuur finds himself in neutral Switzerland. His family is spread across Europe, his wife Kate in London and their daughter Emma living in Berlin with her husband Carl, a ‘good’ German who works at the ministry of foreign affairs. The novel alternates between these three perspectives. Verschuur is the consummate diplomat, a ‘professional obfuscator’: ‘At keeping secrets he was unbeatable; it had become second nature to him.’ By chance he hears about the imminent German invasion of Russia. What should he do? Warn the world, or put his daughter’s safety first? The ticking clock makes the book a page-turner, its heart-stopping developments described with a subtlety that leaves much to the imagination.
Political circumstances influence personal relationships, while in turn personal relationships seem to influence the world. Oscar knows the secret of Operation Barbarossa because during a clandestine meeting in Switzerland, his daughter was unable to hold her tongue: ‘I wanted him to know what we know.’ When his daughter makes her whispered announcement, Verschuur, preoccupied with an extraordinary woman, find himself suddenly wide awake. He does not dare make the information public. Even in London he says nothing, except to his wife. She implores him to act, and downplays the risks to their daughter. This difference of opinion is symptomatic of the married couple’s estrangement.
Kate tells him the secret of a Congolese soldier, who knows that ‘there was nothing you could do about war, it waltzed over the earth, impossible to stop, impossible to avoid; there was no limit to it’. This is the message left by the book: whichever capital city you may be in, you cannot escape a war. Bericht uit Berlijn (News from Berlin) is an exciting, filmic novel, written in Otto de Kat’s characteristically restrained style.