This rich and subtle novel takes an historical moment and imaginatively extends it to produce a taut and tender story of old age, youth, love and war. During the World War II German occupation of Holland, Martin Krebbs, a young SS officer, is ordered to guard Holland’s most illustrious German inhabitant, the exiled Kaiser. Krebbs is drawn into a relationship not only with the formidable, eccentric old man, but also with Akki, the beautiful and enigmatic Dutch serving maid whose role in the Kaiser’s household is more significant than he realises.
Krebbs’s infatuation with Akki develops alongside his deepening relationship with the Kaiser. As the Kaiser feeds his ducks, chops logs, reads P G Wodehouse, muses on what might have been and rages against what is, Akki appears both to accept Krebbs’s advances and to become ever more elusive. The conflicts of love and war, the hard choices demanded by loyalty – and the even harder consequences – are dramatically sharpened by the moral and emotional awakening of the young SS officer.
Sensitive and perceptive, tough-minded and powerful, The Kaiser’s Last Kiss evokes a world in which choices are neither simply personal nor straightforwardly political, but a dangerous mixture of both. There are no easy answers and, as Krebbs discovers, no easy conquests.