What Remains at the End by Alexandra Ford #BookReview #BlogTour

Marie Kohler’s grandparents rarely spoke about their past, and now with the chance of finding out the truth growing slimmer by the day, she travels to Europe to discover what really happened. She uncovers an area of history forgotten by time and concealed by unspoken truths. But how can what has been lost for so long be recovered in the face of so many secrets?
In the aftermath of World War II, hundreds of thousands of Yugoslavia’s ethnic Germans, the Danube Swabians, were expelled by Tito’s Partisan regime. A further sixty-thousand were killed.
Seventy years later, Marie Kohler’s marriage is falling apart. She’s seeing someone new, an enigmatic man named David, who takes her to the former Yugoslavia to find the truth behind her grandparents’ flight to America. 

Alternating between the late 1940s and contemporary Serbia, Marie’s story is interwoven with those of Tito’s victims—a young survivor who has lost his mother and his identity, a woman held captive in a sugar factory, a refugee girl living in Austria under the din of air raid sirens. Her journey follows the Danube in search of connection in the face of loss. Connection to the lost souls, to the memory of her grandfather, to the man beside her, to her grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s back home.  

What Remains at the End sheds light on a largely undocumented history that led to the ethnic cleansing of tens of thousands of Germans at the end of World War II. A story of war and suffering, of loss and the search for connection and identity, it is a heart-wrenching and important debut from Alexandra Ford.

It's my pleasure to be hosting the blog tour for What Remains at the End today. Many thanks to Alexandra Ford, Seren Books and Kelly Lacey from Love Books Tours for inviting me and for sending me a copy of the novel.

Josef Tito is often seen as a benevolent dictator but his Partisans were responsible for the systemic eradication of the ethnic German population in Vojvodina and although it's not a surprise to be reminded once more of human's seemingly infinite capability to commit genocide, until I read What Remains at the End, I was unaware of the ethnic cleansing that took place in Yugoslavia after the end of World War II which saw tens of thousands of Danube Swabians expelled or killed.
There seems to be something untethered about Marie Kohler; her marriage is coming to an end - not accompanied by angry confrontations or bitter recriminations but with a sad sort of acceptance, as if their drifting apart is inevitable. She is in a new relationship with a British man, David but although there is obviously passion between them, she still often seems detached - she struggles to voice her own wishes and allows him to take control on more than one occasion. David takes her to the former Yugoslavia where she hopes to learn more about her grandparents' past but it's a journey which often leaves her questioning whether she belongs anywhere.
The book is divided between Marie's first-person narrative set in 2012 and chapters which describe the horrors endured by the Donauschwaben victims, with her visits to the sites where terrible atrocities took place becoming even harder to read about when they are linked with the unflinching descriptions of those who lived it. These are unsurprisingly the most compelling parts of the novel and underline just what a labour of love What Remains at the End is, for though the inhumanity here is sickening, these are stories which need to be told. However, Marie's journey is also frequently deeply moving and the scenes where she considers where she is stood, what occurred there in the past and what has been forgotten are beautifully written and incredibly poignant.
Marie's experiences in Serbia seem to reflect a country still weighed down by the brutality of the more recent Yugoslav Wars but at least the violence and human rights abuses of those conflicts are acknowledged whereas the war crimes perpetrated just fifty years previously remain hidden, with few memorials to those victims. As she remembers her childhood, raised by her beloved Oma and Opa, it's clear that although they escaped the fate of many of their compatriots they were never truly able to leave their beginnings behind them. What Remains at the End explores the way in which we become linked to our generational experiences and questions whether we can ever truly leave the past behind us - or whether we should want to.
There are no easy answers here, no straightforward resolutions but What Remains at the End is a thoughtful, perceptive and honest novel which reminds us that our desire to understand where we are from will often require confronting the painful tragedies of the past. As Marie points out to David, when the Imperial War Museum listed what they called all the occasions of genocides and crimes against humanity in the past century, they left out the Swabian genocide in Yugoslavia. Alexandra Ford has given those victims a voice here and allowed their truth to be told too. A memorable, important debut.

What Remains at the End is published by Seren Books and can be purchased from Amazon, Hive r directly from the publisher's website.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

Alexandra Ford was born near Philadelphia. She earned her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and her BA from Virginia Tech. Her writing appears in The Rumpus and No Tokens Journal, among others. She lives on a smallholding on the border between England and Wales. This is her first novel.
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