This multi-generational family saga explores the impact of World War II and Nazi Germany, from some very unusual angles. It’s told through the eyes of four 6-year-olds, each from a different generation. The reader meets each generation through Sol, a precocious boy living in California in 2004. His father Randall works as a computer programmer, and circumstances have recently forced him to take a job with higher pay but a much longer commute. Randall has a distant relationship with his mother, Sadie, and is closer to his grandmother, Erra, a professional singer known as Kristina in her youth. Sol’s section of the novel ends as the entire family arrives in Germany to visit Erra’s dying sister.
From there, author Nancy Huston takes us back to 1945 one generation at a time, from Randall to Sadie to Kristina (all age 6). She peels the onion of family relationships and secrets to show how they came to North America, and the physical and emotional toll wrought by the Nazi regime. I can’t say much without spoilers, but their story was not at all what I expected. Judaism and Nazi atrocities played a part, but in unusual ways. And both the family tree and the inter-generational relationships were much more intricate than they first appeared.
I found Erra/Kristina the most interesting character, perhaps because she appeared in each generation’s story. She arrived on the scene first as a staunchly independent elderly woman who dearly loves her great-grandson, and is appalled at some of his parents’ philosophies. She despairs over their plans to surgically remove a birthmark. Her fears seem irrational, but by the time Kristina appeared as a child, I understood the birthmark’s significance and her modern-day reaction was completely understandable. Fault Lines was filled with revelations like this, that really drove home the importance of understanding the societal and familial forces that shape each generation. This was a well-written, enjoyable, and thought-provoking novel.