“It was like going from a color movie into a black and white one.”
If I sat down and made a list of reasons I loved Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet, this line would be right at the top. Why? It’s such a simple thing, this description, but it fits 1980s East Berlin perfectly. Nesbet goes on to talk about how gray it seems to young Noah/Jonah, and that’s true, too, or at least that’s how it felt to me when I was there in 1987, just a few years before the Berlin Wall fell and Germany was reunified. The grayness was almost a physical presence lingering around you: buildings, people, sky, things you could buy in the store. I only stayed a day, but it was long enough. On the way back through the checkpoint, when the guard questioned me about why I didn’t look anything like my passport – really, I didn’t? – I was unsettled enough that I took it as a good omen when the sun shot through a cloud and almost blinded me for a moment when I got back to the West Berlin side.
Noah goes there willingly, too. His parents pile him into the car one day, announcing that they are leaving immediately for East Berlin, and that his life in the U.S. must be reshaped into the life of a child his age named Jonah so that his mother can complete her doctoral research. What? Something fishy is going on, but Noah, now Jonah, gamely complies. He follows the Rules, never talking about anything important inside, keeping quiet, laying low. He manages to make a friend in Claudia; her parents have died or disappeared or something. He’s never really sure of anything – his parents’ motives, who he can trust, why his teacher doesn’t want him to talk, what those tiny pieces of paper his dad keeps dropping are.
The questions pile up and eventually Jonah’s friendship with Claudia causes problems for both of them. No matter how pure their feelings for each other are, the edges blur when outsiders look in. What is right? What is the truth? How can Jonah keep everyone safe? Or can he? Read on.
Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet