Starritt’s slim, taut novel takes the form of a letter written by an elderly German war veteran to his British grandson, Callum. At times the book clanks against the sides of this somewhat contrived structure, but it does permit an indirect dialogue to develop as Callum adds his own notes to the story. Those exchanges are all the more resonant considering that the Scots-German Starritt’s own grandfather was a German soldier who fought in Russia and spent several years in a Soviet prison camp after the war.
All of these individual episodes are vividly done, and the book has a gritty realism. Its arguments about the equivocal nature of guilt on the battlefield can be arresting. However, the structure on which all this hangs is strangely slight. The book wanders (“that was a long digression,” Meissner confesses at one point), the moral interjections can feel like lectures dropped into the action, and the narrative is not sturdy or broad enough to support the weight of Starritt’s ambitions. The unfortunate effect is to make this feel like a novel full of potential that’s only half-developed.