Cold War Berlin is the backdrop of Paula Closson Buck’s debut novel, one that adds to the author's career as a writer of short stories and poetry. In Summer on the Cold War PlanetBuck draws from her experiences of the other literary forms as a means of approaching the novel format with a certain sense of being free from traditional constraints. The result is an artistically-driven and uniquely visionary novel that marries lyrical prose with a daring exploration of human nature. The novel tells the story of Lyddie, a young American woman who returns to old friends in West Berlin when her botanist husband Phelps disappears in Kurdish Iraq. Pregnant and supremely disenchanted with her circumstances, Lyddie finds herself driven back to the circle where she first met Phelps in the hopes, perhaps, of uncovering the place where her life and bliss slipped away from her. Once in Berlin, Lyddie's journey introduces readers to the elusive Sabina, her sometime-lover Lothar, and most especially Axel, the refugee from the East whose stories and secrets seduce Lyddie as much as they torment her. Though her husband warned her against Axel in the years before, when the group first formed a fragile friendship, now Lyddie finds herself once again drawn to Axel as everything else in her life begins to fall away. Soon her feelings for Axel, complicated as they are, seem like the only thing she can depend on, even as they might be her downfall.
The sharp confusion of clashing cultures and languages pits itself against the instability of the atmosphere in the chaotic time before the collapse of the Berlin Wall. In a dual storyline that eventually ties into Lyddie's tale, Buck moves her focus to the Greek islands where Kurdish refugees flee a ravaged and dangerous life. Both settings are separated from each other through Buck's attentive detailing, and each locale feels intricately connected to the emotions of her characters. The abandoned greenhouse, hopelessly lifeless after Phelps goes missing, takes on all the desperation and finality that leads to Lyddie's breakdown; a depressed Berlin captures the unpredictability of the relationships between Lyddie and her friends; and the Greek islands are vividly realized through the eccentricities of an artist late in his life seeking inspiration on the ocean floor. The underlying theme throughout is the fine, frayed line that separates betrayal from allegiance, hope from desperation, as Lyddie tries to recover her lost and damaged soul amid people she simultaneously loves and mistrusts.
Summer on the Cold War Planet is a uniquely devised novel, original in style, setting and characters alike. While the sometimes fantastical uniqueness of the characters might draw up a feeling of disconnect in the reader, they're nonetheless capable of coming alive within their world with a completeness that proves a credit. Buck excels in creating new realizations of time and culture, from the starkness of Berlin to the deep natural splendor of the Greek islands; indeed, the plight of the characters may find itself shadowed by the scope of the emotions and the pull of the atmosphere. The combination of Buck's skillful detailing and her confident artistry make her debut novel an intriguing journey through the darkness - and the passion - of the self.