Peter Bayer was seventy-three. He’d taught at the school just up the road for most of his life and, when the wall
came down, saw no reason to move. Nobody could say life had been easy, and when it was built, he’d lost contact with
many friends, but he’d learnt to enjoy life as best he could and had had the good fortune of a happy marriage to Elsa.
It’s 2006. Peter Bayer and his wife, Elsa, live on the East side of Berlin, as they’ve always done, even when that wasn’t an attractive proposition. What limits Peter’s freedom nowadays isn’t a concrete wall but often feels like one. Elsa has dementia and barely recognises him, so his life is not only hard work, but it’s lonely. What makes it lonelier is that his wife’s illness has given her a distorted view of the past and one that would horrify the woman he married.
When Helen, a recently widowed English woman, rents the flat Peter owns nearby, he experiences the kinds of conversations that used to be normal for him, which makes his current reality all the more painful. Helen’s come to Berlin to find out more about her husband’s past in the city and learns things from their German friends that she was unaware of when he was alive. During her struggle to come to terms with her present life, Helen sees that the terrible demands on Peter’s life are almost impossible to endure.
Other stories in the book show the toll of war, as fear is passed from one generation to another and we see how the power of secrecy never disappears. They also reveal how gratitude can take various forms and how intergenerational friendships really are all they’re cracked up to be.
The Writing on the Wall and Other Stories is a collection of tales, spanning the 1980s to the present day, that will appeal to fans of Anne Tyler, Alan Bennett and Alice Munro, whom Penny Edwards takes inspiration from.