Julia Franck’s early short story ‘Family Friend’ describes a woman who drugs her children so that she can successfully flee with them from East to West Berlin. The devastating prologue to The Blind Side of the Heart, Franck’s superlative novel from 2007 and the first to be translated into English, tracks a desperate, war-ravaged woman’s last movements before she abandons her seven-year-old son on a railway station platform. Now, in Back to Back, Franck’s second novel to be expertly translated by Anthea Bell, we are still in Franck’s native Germany but with characters that are trapped, unable to escape history and homeland, elude their family or shake off their individual demons.
Franck skirts the outer edges of East Berlin in the 1950s, in a country that has emerged from the darkness of the Hitlerzeit by espousing an opposite ideology. Käthe is a Jewish sculptor and dyed-in-the-wool socialist who, having survived the war, is determined to stay afloat in the GDR. The