Quite unplanned, in recent years I seem to have got into the habit of reading books with a German connection. It all began with W.G. Sebald, but then I somehow found myself reading Jan Rüger’s fantastic history of Heligoland, Esther Kinsky’s strange novel River, Werner Herzog’s even stranger travel book Of Walking in Ice, Ben Myers’ novel The Offing (set in the North East of England, but with a German protagonist), and Horatio Clare’s Something of His Art about a walk to Lübeck in the footsteps of J.S. Bach.
Paul Scraton’s Ghosts on the Shore picks up where Clare leaves off, in Lübeck. It’s a fascinating read, describing Scraton’s explorations along the Baltic coast of the former East Germany, from Lübeck to the Polish border.
During his travels, Scraton investigates the area’s heritage from the former communist and Nazi regimes, and from the earlier days of the Hanseatic League. As he visits towns along the way, he also describes the lives of some of the area’s former noteworthy literary figures. Scraton is an excellent observer, describing in just the right level of detail what it’s like to experience the region in person.
Interspersed within Scraton’s travelogue are three sections of a short story set in the region. Normally, Sebald excluded, mixing fact and fiction in the same book irritates the hell out of me, but, in this case, it’s perfectly clear which chapters are factual, and which fiction, and the story fits well with the overall themes of the book.