In the Full Light of the Sun

Image of In The Full Light Of The Sun
Release Date: 
July 9, 2019
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Reviewed by: 

In the Full Light of the Sun is a beautifully written novel about a time in history not far from our own with contemporary echoes that should give us pause.”

Germany between the World Wars offers a tapestry of extremes. The Weimar Republic and the Third Reich provide vastly different settings for this new novel by British author Clare Clark, In the Full Light of the Sun. The historical background is well known: the hyperinflation and social excesses of the post-Great War period followed by the Nazi capture of the powers of the state through democratic means. What is generally missing from the historical record is the impact of these events on ordinary families not involved in the political leadership or in the active opposition. Clare Clark fills that gap in his splendid new novel.

The leitmotif for this novel is the work of the Dutch impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh. He is remembered for his psychotic episodes and delusions, a fitting symbol for Germany’s turbulence. The most complete source on Van Gogh is the copious correspondence between the painter and his younger brother, Theo, and the author makes effective use of this primary material. Theo was an art dealer and provided his brother with economic and emotional support. He also offered Vincent access to influential people on the contemporary art scene, but to little avail. He died penniless.

When Van Gogh’s work became popular long after his death, collectors yearned to acquire the magnificent canvases. Bright and alive impressions of nature’s beauty and images of daily life, the troubled artist’s labors brought a needed sense of contentment to the geopolitical chaos. There was a thriving market for works completed, like Van Gogh’s, “in the full light of the sun.” In addition to Van Gogh’s limited number of canvases, forgers supplied many good imitations, and that ultimately becomes the thread of the novel’s tale. Van Gogh is the perfect symbol for the tumultuous decades in Germany between the two world wars.

Clark divides her book into three sections. All set in Berlin, her characters face the reality of life in 1923, 1927, and 1933. A well-respected art critic, an artist daughter of a friend, and an attorney lead us through the intertwined stories of this turbulent era. Dozens of previously unknown paintings of Vincent van Gogh are identified, and their provenance proves to be the MacGuffin of the narrative.

The most alarming part of the story describes the advent of the Nazis. Although the democratic practices of the Weimar Republic barely had time to take root, the nation accepted the emergence of the Nazis and their capture of the national government with strange equanimity. Someone certainly would stand up to these racist thugs.

No one stood up to the Nazis as they quickly converted the apparatus of the state into instruments of oppression. Clark portrays the events of the early days of 1933 through the frightening naivety of her characters. Each step toward subjugation was accepted because people believed this evil could not possibly last, but it did.

Obviously, a comparison to world events since the demise of the Third Reich is inevitable. Could an odious regime that kidnaps children from migrants possibly last? Someone would certainly do something about it, don’t you think?

In the Full Light of the Sun is a beautifully written novel about a time in history not far from our own with contemporary echoes that should give us pause.