A secret from the past can change your life for ever. A heart-breaking love story set in Cold War Berlin by the author of The Pursuit of Happiness.
Thomas Nesbitt is a divorced American writer living a very private life in Maine. Until, one wintry morning, his solitude is disrupted by the arrival of a package postmarked Berlin.
But what is more unsettling is the name accompanying the return address on the package: Petra Dussmann. For she is the woman with whom Thomas had an intense love affair twenty-five years before in a divided Berlin, where people lived fearfully under the shadows of the Cold War.
And so Thomas is forced to grapple with a past he has always kept hidden. For Petra Dussman was a refugee from the police state of East Germany. And her tragic secrets were to re-write both their destinies.
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DOUGLAS KENNEDY's previous novels include the critically acclaimed bestsellers The Big Picture, The Pursuit of Happiness, A Special Relationship and The Woman in the Fifth. He is also the author of three highly praised travel books. His work has been translated into twenty-two languages. In 2006 he was awarded the French decoration of Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Born in Manhattan, he has two children and currently divides his time between London, Paris, Berlin and Maine.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
IWAS SERVED WITH divorce papers this morning. I’ve had better starts to the day. And though I knew they were coming, the actual moment when they landed in my hand still threw me. Because their arrival announced: this is the beginning of the end.
I live in a small cottage. It’s located on a back road near the town of Edgecomb, Maine. The cottage is simple: two bedrooms, a study, an open-plan living/kitchen area, whitewashed walls, stained floorboards. I bought it a year ago when I came into some money. My father had just died. Though broke by the time that his heart exploded, he still had an insurance policy in place from his days as a corporate man. The policy paid out $300,000. As I was the sole child and the sole survivor—my mother having left this life years earlier—I was also the sole beneficiary. My father and I weren’t close. We spoke weekly on the phone. I made an annual three-day visit to his retirement bungalow in Arizona. And I did send him each of my travel books as they were published. Beyond that, there was minimal contact—a long-ingrained awkwardness always curtailing any ease or familiarity between us. When I flew out alone to Phoenix to organize the funeral and close up his house, a local lawyer got in touch with me. He said that he’d drawn up Dad’s will, and did I know I was about to receive a nice little payoff from the Mutual of Omaha Insurance Corporation?
“But Dad was hard up for years,” I told the lawyer. “So why didn’t he cash in the policy and live on the proceeds?”
“Good question,” the lawyer said. “Especially as I advised him to do that myself. But the old guy was very stubborn, very proud.”
“Tell me about it,” I said. “I tried sending him some money once, not that I had much to offer him. He returned my check.”
“The few times I saw your dad, he bragged to me about his son the well-known writer.”
“I’m hardly well known.”
“But you are published. And he was very proud of what you had accomplished.”
“That’s news to me,” I said, remembering how Dad had hardly said anything about my books.
“That generation of men—they often couldn’t articulate a damn thing they were feeling,” the lawyer said. “But he obviously wanted you to have some sort of legacy from him—so expect a payout of three hundred grand in the next couple of weeks.”
I flew back east the next day. Instead of returning home to the house in Cambridge that I shared with my wife, I found myself renting a car at Logan Airport and pointing it in the direction of places north. It was early evening when I left the airport. I guided the car onto Interstate 95 and drove. Three hours later, I was on Route 1 in Maine. I passed through the town of Wiscasset, then crossed the Sheepscot River and pulled into a motel. It was mid-January. The mercury was well below freezing. A recent snowfall had bleached everything white, and I was the only guest at the inn.
“What brings you up here at this time of year?” the clerk at the reception desk asked me.
“No idea,” I said.
I couldn’t sleep that night and drank most of the fifth of bourbon I had packed in my travel bag. At first light I got back into my rental car and started driving. I followed the road east, a narrow two-lane blacktop that snaked its way down a hill and around a curvy bend. Once that bend was negotiated, the payoff was spectacular. For there in front of me was a frozen expanse, shaded in aquamarine, a vast sheltered bay, fringed by iced woodlands, with a low-lying fog hovering above its glaciated surface. I braked, then got out of the car. A boreal wind was blowing. It chafed my face and nettled my eyes. But I forced myself to walk down to the water’s edge. A meager sun was attempting to light up the world. Its wattage was so low that the bay remained dappled in mist, making it seem both ethereal and haunted. Though the cold was brutal, I couldn’t take my gaze off this spectral landscape. Until another blast of wind made me turn away from it.
And at that precise moment I saw the cottage.
It was positioned on a small plot of land, elevated above the bay. Its design was very basic—a one-storey structure, sided in weatherbeaten white clapboard. Its little driveway was empty. There were no lights on inside. But there was a “For Sale” sign positioned out in front. I pulled out my notebook, writing down the name and number of the Wiscasset real estate agent who was handling it. I was going to approach it, but the cold finally forced me back to the car. I drove off in search of a diner that served breakfast. I discovered one on the outskirts of town. Then I found the agent’s office on the main street. Thirty minutes after I crossed his threshold, we were back at the cottage.
“Now I have to warn you that the place is a bit primitive,” the real estate agent said. “But it’s got great bones. And, of course, it’s right on the water. Better yet, it’s an estate sale. It’s been on the market for sixteen months, so the family will accept a reasonable offer.”
The agent was right. The cottage was the wrong side of rustic. But it had been winterized. And thanks to Dad, the $220,000 asking price was now affordable. I offered one eighty-five on the spot. By the end of the morning, the offer had been accepted. The next morning I had—courtesy of the real estate agent—met a local contractor who was willing to redo the cottage within my budget of $60,000. By the end of the same day I finally called home and had to answer a lot of questions from my wife, Jan, about why I had been out of contact for the last seventy-two hours.
“Because on the way back from my father’s funeral I bought a house.”
The silence that followed this statement was an extended one—and, I realize now, the moment when her patience with me finally cracked.
“Please tell me this is a joke,” she said.
But it wasn’t a joke. It was a declaration of sorts, and one with a considerable amount of subtext to it. Jan understood that. Just as I knew that, once I informed her of this impulse buy, the landscape between us would be irreparably damaged.
Yet I still went ahead and bought the place. Which, in turn, must mean that I really did want things to turn out this way.
But that moment of permanent schism didn’t happen for another eight months. A marriage—especially one of twenty years’ duration—rarely ends with a decisive bang. It’s more like all the phases you go through when confronting a terminal illness: anger, denial, pleading, more anger, denial . . . though we never seemed to reach the “acceptance” part of the “journey.” Instead, during an August weekend when we came up to the now-renovated cottage, Jan chose to tell me that, for her, the marriage was over. And she left town on the next bus.
Not with a bang, just with a . . .
I stayed on at the cottage for the rest of the summer, only returning once to our house in Cambridge—when she was away for the weekend—to pack up all my worldly goods (books and papers and the few clothes I owned). Then I headed back north.
Not with a bang, just with . . .
Months passed. I didn’t travel for a while. My daughter, Candace, visited me at the cottage one weekend per month. Every second Tuesday (her choice) I would drive the half hour from my house down to her college in Brunswick and take her out for dinner. When we got together we talked about her classes and friends and the book I was writing. But we rarely mentioned her mother, except for one night after Christmas when she asked me:
“You doing okay, Dad?”
“Not bad,” I said, knowing that I was sounding reticent.
“You should meet someone.”
“Easier said than done in backwoods Maine. Anyway I’ve a book to finish.”
“Mom always said that, for you, the books came first.”
“Do you agree with that?”
“Yes and no. You were away a lot. But when you were home, you were cool.”
“Am I still cool?”
“Way cool,” she said, giving my arm a squeeze. “But I wish you weren’t so alone.”
“The writer’s curse,” I said. “You have to be alone, you have to be obsessive, and those nearest to you frequently find that hard to bear. And who can blame them?”
“Mom once said that you never really loved her, that your heart was elsewhere.”
I looked at her carefully.
“There were many things before your mom,” I said. “Still, I did love her.”
“But not always.”
“It was a marriage—with all that that implies. And it did last twenty years.”
“Even if your heart was elsewhere?”
“You ask a lot of questions.”
“Only because you’re so evasive, Dad.”
“The past is very much the past.”
“And you really want to dodge that question, don’t you?”
I smiled at my far too precocious daughter and suggested we have another glass of wine.
“I have a German question,” she said.
“We were translating Luther the other day in class.”
“Is your professor a sadist?”
“No, just German. Anyway, while working our way through a collection of Luther’s aphorisms, I found something pertinent . . .”
“Pertinent to whom?”
“No particular person. But I’m not certain if I got the quote exactly right.”
“And you think I can help you?”
“You’re fluent, Dad. Du sprichst die Sprache.”
“Only after a couple of glasses of wine.” <...
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Book Description Arrow, 2012. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0099509733
Book Description Arrow, 2012. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110099509733