Much of the action of The Black Laurel takes place in Berlin, 1945. But it is not a novel about Germany. It concerns a group of English people whose duties or interests place them in Berlin during the first summer of the Occupation. They are involved with each other through their position in occupied territory or through their friendships, and by their interest in the fate of one German who has been arrested and condemned. The action moves swiftly between the ambitions and anxieties of a General, the curious intentions of a Very Important Person, the feverish or helpless twistings of Germans trapped by defeat, the education, friendships and loves of young men. As in life, the private conflicts meet and distort the human relations. When Major-General Lowerbys oldest and closest friendship gets in the way of his ambitions, which does he choose? When William Gary, for whom human beings have been instruments, tries to turn to a human loyalty and devotion, can he escape the involuntary callousness of his own mind? Colonel Brett stumbles over his own folly as much as his honesty. Lise and Arnold, pretending to a sophistication neither has, have to find their way back through separate disillusions, to the simplicity of their young love.The German characters are drawn with a rare knowledge of the conflicts in the German soul: the polished gentleman who will allow any crime for the sake of his family estate; the wound-crippled boys, living on their wits, nerves and passions; the man, at once scholar and brute, who is abandoning the West for the despised and feared East. Behind the suspense of the narrative, and the sharp images of ruin and fever, rises another image - the image, the reality, of Europe, 1945.

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