The Ark center's on the Lechow family: Mother, eldest son Matthias, 16, Margaret, 14, Andrea, 13 and Joey, 7, but is, for the most part, Margaret's story. It is October and the Lechow's have been refugees for a long time, after fleeing west from their home in Pomerania just ahead of the Russian Army at the end of the war. Now, after two years of living in refugee camps, they have finally been assigned two rooms in the home of elderly Mrs. Zerduz, and though she can't do anything about it, she has made it clear that Mrs. Lechow and her children are not welcome.
Little by little the Lechow's settle into their new, more stable home. Joey is finally enrolled in school, where he immediately meets a best friend and fellow adventurer Hans Ulrich, an orphan. Andrea is offered a full scholarship at a private girls school, Margaret stays home and helps with the house and shopping (she doesn't want to return to school) and Matthias is assigned to work in construction, where he meets a best friend and fellow musician, Dieter.
And Mrs. Lechow uses her considerable skill as a seamstress to make some additional money. All in all, life has take a turn for the better for the Lechow's. Even Mrs. Zerduz begins to feel very attached to the family. But they still haven't heard from Dr. Lechow, a POW in a Soviet labor camp; Matthias would rather be an apprentice to a gardener than work in construction; and animal-loving Margaret would rather work on a farm.
Just before their first Christmas in their new home, the children, with Dieter, go out caroling and end up at the lovely Almut farm. One thing leads to another and pretty soon Matthias is taken on as an apprentice and Margaret as a kennel maid. Both of them are ecstatically happy with this arrangement, plus they get to live in an old railroad car that Mrs. Almut had purchased many years ago. They fix it up into a lovely home that can sleep eight people and pretty soon find themselves with both human and animal visitors. For that reason, Margaret decides to christen it "The Ark"
The Ark is an easy to digest novel about the hardships people faced after the devastation of war. Yet, there is no real mention of Germany's recent Nazi past and what went on under their domination, with one exception where it is made known that the Lechow family did not support this government and its policies. On the other hand, Benary-Isbert does not ignore the realities of life too much either - there are abundant shortages with rationing is still in effect, so there is hunger, homelessness, people die, animals die, and children don't always thrive. Margaret, for example, had a twin brother Christian whose war related death always left a void in her life. Yet, there are also pockets of happiness and kindness and the idea that we can create our own areas of contentment and satisfaction even in the midst of chaos and ruin.
The Ark was one of the first books to be published as a way of dealing with the aftermath of Hitler's Reich. Benary-Isbert handled the topic well, considering there was probably still a lot of anti-Germany sentiment around and many other countries were still in the throes of recovery from the war as well. The story takes place in an unspecified town in the Hessian area of Germany under the control of the Americans, whose short appearance in the novel in not particularly flattering, but, oh well, I probably wouldn't much like my occupiers either. There had been an underground arsenal of weapons in that area during the war and it had sustained considerable damage in the last days of the war when bombing caused the arsenal to explode. Many of Benary-Isbert's post war descriptions reminded me of that area.
This is almost an overly sentimental story, and people always seem surprised by how much they like the novel, despite that. I also found that to be true and, it turns out, there is a sequel to The Ark called Rowan Farm, which I am now looking forward to reading.
This book is recommended for readers 12+
The book was borrowed from a friend.