A 30th anniversary edition of a Whitbread shortlisted novel.
Though Tomas is half-German, he is taught by English war veterans. He walks the ruins of Coventry with his English Gran, still crumbling from the blitz. Later, when Tomas nears adulthood, he goes to Germany to stay with his enigmatic uncle, Herr Poppel. The blind, elderly man was once a German soldier. Tomas has more family out in Dresden, a city still maimed by Allied firebombs.
What does a young man make of all this atrocity, guilt and his own disgust at the past? What might we inherit from the wars of our elders, and how might we move on?
‘The emotional tact of Martin Goodman’s ON BENDED KNEES slips down like a milky cuppa. Yet Goodman’s plot unfolds against a backcloth of even deeper red. Tomas grows up with his German mother in the postwar Midlands, a place of oozing war-wounds where a gung-ho film or a World Cup tie can split his heart in two. “We carry old deaths within us,” warns his dying teacher and Tomas must turn pilgrim in Dresden to make peace with his family’s past. This quiet and subtle study of reconciliation tends to stick with English understatement and eschew German grandeur. No matter, Britain has squads of youngish writers trained to squeeze the last drop of moral juice out of the Second World War and its aftermath. It takes a braver soul, like Goodman, to hint that postwar babes should try instead to lay these ghosts to rest.’ ~ The Observer
‘A perceptive, moving novel. Martin Goodman takes fierce delight in cutting through the easy cliches about the “new” Europe.’ ~ Christopher Hope