The book hooked me right from the start. The crime element deals with the search for a number of Ukrainian girls who travel to Germany to study on alleged student exchanges, leaving behind families who often never hear from them again. At the same time, the story tells of life in Ukraine before, during and after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, providing a gripping and devastating insight into life at the time of the event and the tragic repercussions for Ukraine and its people. It is not a subject I've read much about in the past, so it was fascinating for me to learn more about it.
The story switches between the exclusion zone in Ukraine, Düsseldorf, and Zyfflich, a small village in Germany near the Dutch border, and is told through a combination of present-day narration, flashbacks and diary-writing. The suspense throughout is prolonged expertly as the story builds and the police in Germany and Ukraine finally get to the bottom of the human trafficking ring, and the threads of the various stories are eventually tied up at the end.
This novel has stayed in my head even when I haven't been reading, and I have found it very difficult to switch between the story and real life. It is always a sign of a great novel when I have to cover the page to stop myself from skipping ahead as I am so desperate to find out what happens next!
Unfortunately, no English translation of this novel has yet been published, but I sincerely hope that one will appear in the near future. It is the kind of story that can and should travel between cultures, and I believe many readers of English would thoroughly enjoy and benefit from this important and thrilling novel. I am very much looking forward to hearing Mechtild Borrmann speak next week (there are still a few tickets available for free, so register now - the event is in English!) and to getting started on her other novels. Wer das Schweigen bricht (published in English in May 2015 as Silence, translated by Aubrey Botsford) is next on my list, and I'm sure it will be as fantastically written as Die andere Hälfte der Hoffnung.