by Deborah Rogers
The life and politics of Petra Kelly, German Green Party pioneer, seem to have been forgotten in the years since her murder in 1992. One of the aspects of this month’s read that our group enjoyed so much was being immersed into the past and learning about this charismatic, passionate young activist. Shaena Lambert’s Petra presents the reader a fictionalised account of Kelly’s short life. It’s narrated through the voice of one of her political peers, Manfred, and covers the time period from the early 1980s as Kelly burst onto the political scene and brought a swath of Green Party candidates into the West German parliament.
Petra has just won the Ethel Wilson Prize for B.C.-authored fiction, and our group certainly agreed that the book was beautifully written, and a really intriguing way of presenting some interesting ideas. Whilst focused on Kelly, the story’s cast of supporting characters, especially the ex-NATO General Emil, raise the topics of generational trauma, feminism, eco-activism, nuclear disarmament, party-politics, espionage and good old-fashioned love affairs. Reading Petra had sent many of us off down a rabbit hole of research, looking for photos, maps of Berlin and facts about the time. It was interesting to hear each other’s discoveries, and lots for us to get our teeth into at our meeting!
One issue that many of our group raised was the decision to present the story as fiction, yet leave Petra as the very real character at the centre. There was no consensus over whether it was the correct approach, but we did agree that it was a story we might not have come across were it not for book club, and many were really glad to have read it. Also recommended by one member is Oh My Darling, a collection of short stories from Lambert.
This novel leaves readers with a real sense of sadness: at Petra’s death of course, but also for the wasted potential of that burgeoning Green movement. Many of the issues that they were pushing to confront seem just as relevant today, and the way that environmental activists are treated does not seem to have progressed very much in the intervening years.
Our next meeting is the last one of the year for our group and we’re going out as we started, with an author Q&A. We will be reading Becoming Lin by Tricia Dowler, and Tricia will join us to answer some of our questions. The meeting takes place on Tuesday November 9, 6:30 p.m. via Zoom. You must be registered with our mailing list to get login details for the meeting: www.seasidemagazine.ca/book-club.