Leaving Berlin

Thistledown (2011)


First edition published by Thistledown Press (Saskatoon, SK, 2011). 297 pp. ISBN-10: 1-897235-91-7; ISBN-13: 978-1-897235-91-1.

Second edition as Kindle eBook (2012). 270 pp.

Buy it on Amazon.



The intimate portraits in Britt Holmström’s first collection of short fiction at times have a strong journalistic sense while at other times evoke the intimacy of a diary. The stories employ underlying humour – particularly irony, incongruity, paradox, and derision. They move fluidly through time operating in the present tense while creating tangents to the past. For example, in the title story “Leaving Berlin” an emotionally mismatched couple travel to Europe where they find themselves at odds with each other. They realize that other events are also conspiring against them when they are held for importing propaganda upon entering East Berlin. The narrator in “The Soul Of A Poet” rediscovers a notebook from her university days that details the events of a meteoric friendship she had with an alter-ego figure. Her notebook details her friends sudden descent into madness, and her own obsession with Eleanor’s life that remains years later. “The Blue Album” relates the incident of a freshly divorced woman whose new roommate’s ex-con brother comes to stay for the weekend leaving her with alternate states of paranoia and a tender interest that she can’t quite understand. In the story “Doing Laundry on a Sunday”, two women who always do laundry together on Sundays realize that they have no other knowledge of each other’s lives except their laundry sessions. Although not an explicit rubric, feminism underlies some of the stories, and Holmström’s development of women’s voices and viewpoints as a dominant force in her storytelling contribute significant texture to her writing.



Leaving Berlin is a skilfully written collection, whimsical and down-to-earth, ironical and intelligent. Holmström is a master of tone on many levels, be it through subtleties of reported speech, situational comedy or through dramatic ironies that allow us to see the larger picture. … These are polished stories and the work of a pro at the height of her career.” – Gillian Harding-Russell, Prairie Fire

Leaving Berlin is a bit different from most Canadian short story collections I’ve read lately (and I’ve read plenty) in two significant ways that have to do with the author’s biography. First, Holmström was born in Sweden, and her collection reflects such an international awareness of the local, and also what it means to be foreign.  … And second, this isn’t her first book – Leaving Berlin is her fourth book since 1998. … And you sense that with this book, here is a writer with experience in both writing and life, and who is not striving in the same way as a young writer still learning and yearning to prove herself might be. Which is to say that there is sureness here in Holmström’s voice, a real maturity, and what a pleasure it really is to encounter a writer in her prime.” – Kerry Clare, Pickle Me This

“These stories are poignant, personal, and carry both Holmström’s irreverent humour and her evident regard for the complicated human heart. While plots travel through time, across Europe, England, big-city Canada and the Canadian prairies, drama is found most often in the everyday details of human interaction. … In a literary landscape where stories, especially those following female characters, so often idealize relationship and providence, Holmström’s stories provide a refreshing, lucid, anti-romance.” – Sandy Bonny, SPG Book Reviews