Secret Father
221 pages

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From a New York Times–bestselling author, a “gripping and beautifully written” novel of love and family set against the backdrop of Cold War Berlin (Bookpage).

Berlin, 1961. Days before the Wall rises, three teenagers from an American school in West Germany travel to the Communist side of the divided city to join a May Day rally. One of them has brought along a flight bag belonging to his father, a US intelligence officer. Before long, the teens are in the custody of the secret East German police, the notorious Stasi. Unbeknownst to them, their parents have unfinished business, reaching back to World War II, which will pull the three friends into the vortex of an international incident.
Told through flashbacks by alternating narrators, Secret Father is a novel of missed signals, cloaked motives, false postures, and panicked responses that tragically echo across borders and generations. Like the classic period thrillers of Graham Greene, James Carroll’s politically charged coming-of-age tale provides a “somber and evocative look at some of the most frightening times in one of the most frightening places in the Cold War” (Kirkus Reviews). “Carroll writes with rich, lyrical ease,” raves Publishers Weekly. “His characters are richly drawn, and the pieces of his impeccably paced story fit together with the cool precision of a Mercedes-Benz.”



Publié par
Date de parution 24 janvier 2005
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780547526836
Langue English

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Table of Contents
Title Page
Table of Contents
Author’s Acknowledgments
About the Author
Copyright © 2003 by James Carroll All rights reserved
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows: Carroll, James, 1943– Secret father / James Carroll. p. cm. ISBN 0-618-15284-9 1.Americans—Germany—Fiction. 2. Runaway teenagers—Fiction. 3. Fathers and sons—Fiction. 4. Berlin (Germany)—Fiction. 5. Male friendship—Fiction. 6.Teenage boys—Fiction. 7. Cold War—Fiction. 8. Widowers—Fiction. I. Title. PS 3553. A 764 S 43 2003 813'.54—dc21 2003041725
e ISBN 978-0-547-52683-6 v2.0614
Author’s Acknowledgments
I am grateful to Robert Bly for permission to reprint lines from Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke (Harper & Row). Copyright © 1981 by Robert Bly.
Among works consulted for historical background to this novel, particularly useful were The History of the German Resistance, 1933–1945 by Peter Hoffman (translated by Richard Barry); Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police by John O. Koehler; Berliners: Both Sides of the Wall by Anne Armstrong; Cold War by Jeremy Isaacs and Taylor Downing; Wiesbaden by Wolfgang Eckhardt; The Fourth and Richest Reich by Edwin Hartrich; and Battle Ground Berlin by David E. Murphy, Sergei A. Kondrashev, and George Bailey. In writing this book, I had invaluable support, again, from my editors, Wendy Strothman and Larry Cooper, and from my agent, Donald Cutler. Thank you all. And I particularly acknowledge my family—Elizabeth and Patrick, who inspire me, and Alexandra Marshall, my wife, who sustains me. I dedicate this novel to her, in love.
For Lexa
Real love, compared to fantasy, is a harsh and dreadful thing.
For Isaiah Neuhaus
I F ONE DAY can mark a person forever, what of two days? Those two days, when I knew your father, when he was young, have marked me since. I can tell you what I know of his story only by telling you the marked part of mine. Your father. His mother. My son. Each life altered, or ended, by events that for you can be a source of indelible pride, your patrimony, a legacy from which to take the measure of all that honors the memory of your father. But these are events that had a different meaning for me, the measure of which, I tell you at the start, is the sadness you may already sense in the space between these words. I have never told this story to anyone. Because your father asked me to, I am telling it to you.
People of my generation, ahead of his, saw so little as it actually was then, as if the Manichean division of the world into East and West, bad and good, gave shape also to our most intimate relationships. An iron curtain ran not just, as Churchill put it, from the Balkans to Trieste, but between those of us who claimed to be grown and in charge and those, like your father and my son, who seemed still so unfinished and, as I thought of them, vulnerable. When Michael was away from me, I often feared that he would get lost, which was my way of fearing, I suppose, that I would lose him. It was a fear I could not acknowledge as being more for myself than for him, because I had yet to reckon with what I had already lost.
What characterized our personal East-West division—broadly dubbed in America a few years later as the generation gap—was that Michael was the wounded one. That was presumptively a function of his longtime status as a handicapped child, but then it also became a matter of my efficient pretense that the loss we’d undergone together the year before was more his than mine, as if what I did was for him, never for myself. Thus, if the world we’d inherited was to be a jungle, I would be Michael’s brush cutter, leading the way through impassable thickets with my machete, hacking out a path for him, calling over my shoulder, “This way, son. This way.” Not noticing until too late that he had stopped following. That he had disappeared.
This story, which I’ve told myself a thousand times, always begins with the sixth stroke of the clock, the grandfather clock with the elaborately carved oaken case that I hear ticking now, not far from where I sit writing in my old house in New York City. In our German days, the clock was in the sitting room of the big house the bank had leased—not for me, since five nights out of seven I was there alone, but for the holders of my position. I’d found the clock in a warehouse near the Rhine: all Europe could still seem a flea market in those years, with the fine things of a lost world for sale cheap. I bought the clock, I think, to stake a claim to the timbered mansion assigned to me, and the sonorous Westminster gong wafted through those lonely rooms like the regular greeting of a friendly ghost.
If any house had the right to be haunted, it was that one. It was built after the First World War in Dahlberg, a near suburb on the opposite side of Frankfurt from the factory and rail yard district, which was why it had not been bombed in the Second. After those two wars, Germany was a nation of ghosts, an infelicitous place for a man and a boy yoked together by blood and affection, of course, but also by that knot of loss. We never asked it of each other, but our question was, If she can vanish from our lives, why then can’t you from mine?
Five, beat, six. I remember looking up from that day’s Frankfurter Neue Presse, a newspaper I felt obliged to look at as a way of improving my German. “Improving” overstates it perhaps. In my months in the country, I had come up against a linguistic mental block, and German had so far remained impenetrable to me, a blow more to my pride than my professional performance, since everyone in banking spoke English. All that week, however, I had been especially motivated to decipher the local news. As I lumpishly tracked through the text of a particular story, the clock had struck six. Without being aware of it, I had kept the count, and it was exactly then that the question first rang in my head: Where is Michael?
It was late in April 1961, a Friday evening. I looked up from the paper fully expecting to see Michael’s shyly grinning face in the archway that marked the entrance foyer off from the sitting room. I saw the tall green ceramic-tiled brazier on the near side of the arch, and through the arch, the mahogany bench onto which Michael would have dropped his bag and his stick. In a trick of a mind ready to worry, his absence supplied a vivid sensation: an image in the vacant air of his lanky, thin frame at a slouching angle, the loose posture of a young man with leg braces.
“Hey, Dad.”
Is he grinning? Has he left behind his anger at me? Our first awful fight.
“Hay is for horses,” I would have said, a daring echo of what had been his mother’s good-humored correction. Humor as a ladder out of the pit of hurt.
But where is he?
April 1961. The newspapers had been full of what came to be called the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the first shocking failure of the young Kennedy administration. There is no way to convey now the palpable sense of danger with which we all lived in those years. Kennedy and Khrushchev were like the cowboy gunfighters then dominating movies and television, men forever on the verge of drawing weapons, but weapons that would kill us all. Political fear was entirely personal, but personal fear, for that reason, could seem nuclear, too. Worry that something had happened to my son, or, if I was lucky, that he was only angry at me, was as deeply unsettling as my fear of what I read in our awful newspapers.
But the news story I had been trying to follow that week was about an event that had taken place right in front of me, as if to warn that even a life like mine could be dangerous. On the previous Monday, I had attended a conference of Germany’s major steel producers at Rhine-Main Hall, a new convention center in the reborn heart of Frankfurt. The meeting had been called by the Bonn Ministry for Economic Cooperation. Gathered in a function room were about two hundred dark-suited men, mostly German but also including European Coal and Steel Community delegates and a smattering of financiers from various countries, of whom I was one. At meetings like this, the language spoken was always English, which was a main reason my German never improved. The purpose was to lay the groundwork for the creation of an ECSC consortium to develop iron imports from Africa.
The third of a number of speakers in the afternoon session approached the podium, a distinguished-looking man who—thin, tall, well tailored, and bald—reminded me of Britain’s Prince Philip. I had actually been thinking of slipping out, but the agenda notes identified him as having lived in Moravia for a decade as the representative of Rheinstahl, one of the great German

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