New York : Amy Einhorn Books, 2012
392 p. ; 24 cm ISBN/ISSN:
9780399157769, 039915776X, 9780399161520, 039916152X, Language:
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This World War II story overflows with dilemmas facing ordinary individuals as well as a society trained to look the other way. First-time novelist David Gillham meticulously captures the sights, sounds and foul smells of Berlin in 1943 as he steadily reveals the mettle of a wife whose husband is off at war. Sigrid Schrőder does not think of herself as remarkable, and yet she makes choices that could be characterized as heroic or absurd a half a century later. Once a self-described hausfrau with a job as a typist, first Sigrid takes a lover in a blunt rendezvous. Egon turns out to have a volatile personality, as well as to be a Jew hiding in plain sight. Their risky sexual escapades are only heightened by the scheming businessman’s methods for avoiding capture and his uneven efforts to protect the family he left behind. Sigrid wonders why she doesn’t feel guilty about her affair. The historical novel’s readers are left to decide if the bleakness in the balance of her life excuses her. Sigrid also forms an off-keel alliance with neighbor Ericha Kohl, a woman not yet out of her teens who spends her days and nights moving Jews who must be hidden and then relocated or risk ending up in a concentration camp. Soon Sigrid is among Ericha’s partners in the rescue movement, constantly on watch to avoid the Gestapo. What is she to make of things when she meets a mother and her two daughters in hiding who quite possibly are her lover’s family? The range of emotions Sigrid reveals can be stomach-churning, but remain believable. Over and over, Sigrid takes risks that surprise even her, but perhaps shouldn’t given the circumstances. Gillham keeps the storyline serious and makes no attempt to soften the disturbing images of life in Berlin. The novel has its share of evenings in air raid shelters, forged identification papers and traitorous characters. Readers will be contemplating the question of whether the “ends justify the means” for weeks after finishing Gillham’s book.
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