Postcards from Berlin
Margaret Leroy
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Buy *Postcards from Berlin: A Novel* online

Postcards from Berlin
Margaret Leroy
Little, Brown
400 pages
August 2003
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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You can run from the past, as far as forever, until you are safe, hidden inside the folds of a loving family. You carefully construct a life filled with the warmth and security of belonging. Your name is Catriona and you have an adored husband, Richard, and two daughters, Sinead and Daisy. As a wife and mother, you are a different person, wrapped in the comfort of routine days that slowly gather to form a contented life. At Christmastime, you invite the shivering carolers inside, offer mulled wine to warm their freezing fingers. In the soft glow of candlelight, your family, your friends, your home, all are inviolate.

Then the postcards begin arriving, postcards from Berlin. You know who is sending the postcards. It is the handwriting of your estranged mother, the one who left you at the children's home, a place where unwanted boys and girls wait, but no one ever takes them away. You learned to survive by your wits the daily hostility, the punishing beatings, the lonely hours. The cards travel all the way from Berlin where she has settled, ill and needy. She writes like a close friend, a loving relative, "Dear, I want so to see you". Out of the question. How can this foolish woman make such statements, be so oblivious to your pain?

And when eight-year old Daisy catches the flu and can't seem to shake it, wracked by bouts of nausea and aching joints, even then, you know what a mother should do. Already stressed over Daisy's mysterious illness, when the postcards come one after another, slotted between bills and magazines, you are filled with unreasonable panic; you begin having nightmares. Your husband returns home late each night, drinks more. And Sinead is increasingly uncommunicative, hurt by your obsession with her sister's health. Before long, everything has changed and your careful family structure collapses as easily as a house of cards.

Meanwhile, your beautiful, golden-haired child gets sicker, missing school too often and attracting the notice of her teacher. You are determined to be a good mother, yet every postcard inflicts fresh wounds, awakening old fears and memories. Daisy is your priority, so you bombard the doctors, demanding tests, a second opinion, anything to help find a diagnosis. You attend consultations, one two, three, even have a psychiatrist consult with your husband. The doctors have, they say, a probable diagnosis. Relieved, you hear them out (by now they are a committee). The diagnosis is unacceptable, ridiculous. The more you object, the more they insist. Even your husband sides with the doctors. Your life, so wonderful it often seemed like a dream, has become a waking nightmare.

Feeling as helpless as you were as a child, so terribly vulnerable, all the horrors of the past come rushing back, the terror of being alone. The postcards beckon. Acting impulsively to save your daughter and yourself, you make a decision, setting irrevocable events in motion. You may question everything else in your life, but never your duty to your daughter. Perhaps you will lose all you hold dear, but you do what a mother must, against incredible odds. The past looms large over a life and death battle against a hostile system that already discounted you at fourteen. This time your past will either destroy life, as you knew it, or open a door to the future.

© 2003 by Luan Gaines for Curled Up With a Good Book

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