by Anne Blankman
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: April 22nd, 2014
Format Read: Kindle E-Book
In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her “uncle” Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.
Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler. And Gretchen follows his every command.
Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews.
As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?
From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she’s ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.
Even though I am drawn to historical fiction like a moth to a flame, this book didn’t make me feel too satisfied. While its a well-researched topic, and a controversial one, I couldn’t quite get into it.
My mom has always been obsessed with WWII history, and so I’ve always professed that it’s not my thing, but I confess, sometimes it is. There is something so interesting about it, something that draws you in and makes you really question humanity. Plus, anyone with German heritage learns early on that there are many, many aspects of the war, and they’re all sensitive, and (if you’re me) you had better get used to WWII history when every Elementary School teacher is going to go ‘look at Rosi–she has blond braids and blue eyes, she’s the ideal Nazi girl-child’ and everyone who knows your dad is German is giving you highly suspicious looks. Anyways, I digress.
I’m torn as to how to rate this, and if there were a 4.5 stars option I’d choose it (there isn’t one, probably because Emily knows how much I like to waffle about ratings). It might deserve a lesser rating, but I felt most of my problem with the book was, well, my problem. This book is definitely a highly interesting look at (barely) Pre-Nazi Germany, a time and place that likely very few people already know about. We start in 1931 with Gretchen Müller, a lovely girl with blond braids and blue eyes, whose Father is a Nazi martyr from the Beer Hall Putsch, and is therefore on first-name basis with the most nefarious man in history…yep, Hitler. Or, to Gretchen, Uncle Dolf. She is happy to go along with all of the propaganda, until she meets a young, cute reporter who OOPS, happens to be Jewish…and then learns that there’s a lot more to her dad’s death than anyone’s willing to say.
It was a…fascinating book. I had to get over my initial revulsion at the Nazi propaganda and the fact that Hitler was a main character, but once I did (or rather, once Gretchen started to question her upbringing) I settled into the story with somewhat more ease. Part of this is, though, that I have been brought up to understand that anything related to Hitler is utter anathema. I realized this when I hesitated before looking up the Hitler Wiki page, as if that was violating some sort of code. Also worrisome, when compared to Gretchen’s brainwashed worries about Daniel. That aside, it’s a very interesting look at the psychology and methodology of Adolf Hitler, from the point of view of someone close to him and the whole gang who would later go down in history.
As a historian, I appreciated the attention to detail the author brought. Bringing in Eva Braun, for instance, Hitler’s long-time mistress and, for a VERY short period of time, wife, was a stroke of genius. Many of the characters are actual people, which the author discusses at the end of the book. The psychology, too, is fairly well-researched–especially in the context of the time period. Anne Blankman has clearly done an extensive amount of research for this book. As a reader, I liked the slow transition of Gretchen’s rebellion. Especially when she cuts off those bloody braids–that was a nice touch.
That being said, there were a few hang-ups that I had, although I get the feeling most of it was me and the issue of reading a book about Hitler as a half-German in Berlin. I felt acutely anxious on the S-Bahn about the possibility of people reading over my shoulder and going ‘OMG this girl’s reading about someone calling Hitler ‘Uncle Dolf’ ’. Alternately, when the book go to the first almost sex scene I was like ‘NOPE, ABSOLUTELY NOT, SKIPPING AHEAD TWO CHAPTERS’. Still, all of these go under the ‘it’s-not-you-it’s-me’ category. And, on the other hand, they tell me a lot about my ability to reconcile my heritage to a horrific past, which I’m still clearly being tested on.
One thing that I actually do have an issue with is the title. While it references several iconic German works of literature (although the actual quote comes from Wagner’s Rheingold, not Goethe’s Erlkönig, according to Wikipedia), it is used in a very specific sense when dealing with WWII, and it is the policy of dealing with people in occupied lands who were handed off to the Gestapo and ‘disappeared’, usually to concentration camps. The idea has probably been around for a little while longer, and I’ll give Blankman some slack in that some concentration camps started up in 1933. But nothing in the title gives an actual hint of what’s in the book–in fact, it’s very much a false impression. Neither Gretchen or Daniel is a prisoner, nor are they ‘disappeared’. I automatically suspected a Holocaust story a la Code Name Verity just based on the title, which was quite misleading.
Still, it’s a well-written and intriguing book, which gives a thorough background of the early Nazi party and an attempt to psychoanalyze Hitler, while also telling a cute love story. I’m excited to see what’s going to be going down in the second book, Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke–which, according to the Author’s Note at the back of this one, deals with Berlin in March-April 1933, PRESUMABLY with the Reichstag Fire and the Enabling Act passed directly thereafter which gave emergency powers to the Nazi Party and really started Hitler’s reign (but that’s just a historian’s guess. Likely a damn accurate guess…but a guess nevertheless).
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.