Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
Sarah Freethy worked as a television producer, script consultant and screenwriter before turning her hand to fiction with her first novel, The Porcelain Maker. Although this work is a story of fiction, many of the things written about did really happen and have been well documented. The Allach Porcelain and the Dachau sub camps did exist, but as the author says the main characters ‘never breathed outside these pages’ (Acknowledgements).
Allach porcelain was produced in Germany between 1935 and 1945. Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the SS, features in this story and often visits the camp. He saw the acquisition of a porcelain factory producing works of art that would be representative, in Himmler’s eyes, of Germanic culture as important. Allach porcelain was one of his favourite projects and produced various figurines (soldiers, animals, etc.) to compete in the small but profitable German porcelain market. Himmler held the power of life and death over those who worked in this project.
The fall of the Third Reich brought an end to the Allach factory. The Allach factories were shut down in 1945, and never reopened.
On the first page is a description of a tall cabinet in which lies a white porcelain rabbit carrying the maker’s mark – the word Allach and twin strikes of lightning. The story that follows is presented in two time zones 1993-1994 and 1925-1946. A young woman travels across the world to a tiny auction house in America to buy porcelain animals in the hope of finding out more of her heritage. What she had always believed was contradicted by an uttering from her mother on her sick bed. She is now a divorced woman with an adult daughter so has time to try to solve the mystery of her parentage.
The earlier story, the relationship between her parents, is alternated with this search. Bettina Vogel is a German artist studying at the avant-garde school of art when she is introduced to a fellow architect student, Austrian Max Ehrlich. Both have exceptional skill in their chosen field; however, they can never marry no matter how much they may love each other.
The story highlights the time in history where a great change is coming especially in Europe, when violence against those who hold different beliefs to the upcoming Nazi Party is often perpetrated. Whenever the couple plan to escape their present situation, their actions are thwarted. Max is arrested and sent to the Dachau concentration camp. Fortunately, his skills are required, and he becomes involved in the making of ceramics.
Not knowing what has become of Max, Bettina does what she must and becomes the wife of a Nazi art dealer. When she becomes aware that her soulmate is alive and nearby, she plans their escape. But this is not to be.
Through the daughter’s research, people who knew the pair are tracked down and the full story is revealed.
This is a story of porcelain figurines and how they were used to promote a particular ideology. It is also a story of inhumanity at this time in history and how human life was a commodity to achieve a particular end. It is also the story of an abiding love and the sacrifices willing to be given to protect it.
Sarah Freethy has written a powerful story where art plays an important part in protecting life as well as causing the downfall of the artist. As a debut novel it has much to offer and I look forward to having the opportunity to read this author’s second novel, The Seeker of Lost Paintings, still in the process of being written.
The Porcelain Maker
by Sarah Freethy
Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 978 139851 180 4