Skip to main content

Going Over

Review

Going Over

Stefan and Ada are in love but they are separated by a miles-long barricade topped with barbed wire that divides their city, Berlin. It’s 1983 and the Berlin Wall has stood between East Berlin (Friedrichshain) and West Berlin (SO 36) for almost 20 years.
 
Ada, 15, lives in Kreuzburg, West Berlin, with her mother and grandmother and the other squatters, rebels, punkers and immigrants in the city. A pink-haired graffiti artist, Ada teaches at a daycare center during the day and paints her art on the Berlin Wall at night. Ada’s art is for Stefan; she paints scenes of daring escapes over, under and through the wall, hoping that one day Stefan will escape himself and join her in freedom.
 
Stefan, 18, is much more practical than Ada. He is haunted by the loss of his grandfather who perished in an attempt to escape under the wall. Stefan and his grandmother were not even allowed to bury the body; the East Berlin government would not acknowledge the death of a traitor. Stefan’s grandmother is like a ghost now, she fears that Stasi (police) ears are everywhere and does not wish to move on from the past. Stefan takes comfort in the stars, training his telescope on West Berlin and watching for Ada’s pink hair across the wall.
 
This is an excellent example of historical fiction at its best. GOING OVER will leave readers with a deeper appreciation of the difficulties of post-war countries.
 
As Stefan tries to gather the courage to attempt escape, Ada becomes involved with trying to save a Turkish, immigrant preschool student, Savas, from an abusive home. Ada struggles to come to terms with a world where society itself is divided and humanity is beaten down by fear. She eventually has to learn a tough and terrible lesson.
 
Told in second-person stream of consciousness, alternating between Stefan and Ada’s points of view, Kephart’s language is richly evocative and completely immerses readers in 1980s Berlin. The imagery is fantastic, you can almost feel the characters’ individual aches and pains; smell the aerosol, dill, smoke, baked wool and leather of Kreuzberg; and see the gray, miserable wall that destroyed what was once a beautiful city. Kephart also does a great job of conveying the overwhelming sadness that permeates the air and people of Berlin after WWII. This is an excellent example of historical fiction at its best. GOING OVER will leave readers with a deeper appreciation of the difficulties of post-war countries.
 
Stefan and Ada’s story is one of bravery and courage but it’s also about growing up and becoming an adult, struggling to reconcile life’s realities with personal ideals. This book is at once compelling and challenging and should not be taken on lightly. Kephart’s language, though flavorful and stunning, is at times a little bit too elaborate and some readers might find it tough going. While the author’s note and selected sources list will be useful for readers who want to learn more about life on either side of the Berlin wall, a glossary of German words is curiously missing despite how often the author employs German vocabulary without definition or explanation. Still, this is a vivid portrait of a time that is often overlooked; GOING OVER is a gripping and compelling tale of life, love and grief in the grim specter of the Berlin Wall.

Reviewed by Alice Dalrymple on April 9, 2014

Going Over
by Beth Kephart

  • Publication Date: November 24, 2015
  • Genres: Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books
  • ISBN-10: 1452128863
  • ISBN-13: 9781452128863