Excerpts for Vanishing of Katharina Linden

Chapter One    

My life might have been so different, had I not been known as the girl whose grandmother exploded. And had I not been born in Bad Munstereifel. If we had lived in the city--well, I'm not saying the event would have gone unnoticed, but the fuss would probablyonly have lasted a week before public interest moved elsewhere. Besides, in a city you are anonymous; the chances of being picked out as Kristel Kolvenbach's granddaughter would be virtually zero. But in a small town--well, small towns everywhere are rife withgossip, but in Germany they raise it to an art form.  

I remember my hometown as a place with a powerful sense of community, which was sometimes comforting and sometimes stifling. The passing of the seasons was marked by festivals that the whole town attended: Kareval in February, the cherry fair in the summer,the St. Martin's Day procession in November. At each one I saw the same faces: our neighbors from the Heisterbacher Strasse, the parents who gathered at the school gate every lunchtime, the ladies who served in the local bakery. If my family went out to dinnerin the evening we were quite likely to be served by the woman my mother had chatted to in the post office that morning, and at the next table would be the family from across the street. It would take real ingenuity to keep anything secret in a place like that--orso everyone thought.  

Looking back on that year, those were innocent days; a time when my mother cheerfully allowed me at the tender age of ten to roam the town unsupervised--a time when parents let their children out to play without once entertaining the horrific notion thatthey might not return home again. 

  That came later, of course. My own problems began with my grandmother's death. A sensation at the time, it should by rights have been forgotten when the true horrors of the following year unfolded. But when it became clear that some malevolent force wasat work in the town, public opinion looked back and marked Oma Kristel's death as the harbinger of doom. A Sign.  

What was really unfair about the whole thing was that Oma Kristel hadn't so much exploded as spontaneously combusted. But Gossip is Baron Munchhausen's little sister, and never lets the truth get in the way of a good story. To hear the tale retold on thestreets of Bad Munstereifel, and especially in the playground of the Grundschule, which I was attending at the time, you would have thought my grandmother went off like a blaze in a Chinese fireworks factory, filling the air with cracks and pops and dazzlingflares of colored light. But I was there; I saw it happen with my own eyes.       

  Chapter Two    

It was Sunday, December 20, 1998, a date that will be forever marked in my mental history. The last Sunday before Christmas, the day we were to light the last candle on the Advent crown, the last day of my grandmother's life, and, as it turned out, thelast time the Kolvenbach family would ever celebrate Advent.  

My mother, who at that time was one of only three British citizens living in Bad Munstereifel, had never quite come to grips with German Christmas customs. She usually forgot about the Advent crown until the first Sunday was upon us and the only ones leftwere tatty lopsided efforts stacked up outside the supermarket on the edge of town. This year's crown was a sad-looking affair with four improbable blue candles squatting uncomfortably on a ring of artificial greenery. Oma Kristel took one look and marchedoff to get a proper one.  

The one she bought was a beauty: a big coronet of dark green foliage interwoven with crimson and gold ribbons and decorated with tiny Christmas baubles. Oma Kristel carried it into our dining room as ceremoniously as though it had been a jar of frankincensefor the infant Jesus Himself, and set it down in the middle of the table. My mother's crown, with the unseasonal blue candles, was relegated to the s