Gretchen’s father sacrificed himself to save Hitler, and so her family has lived in his favour ever since. But when a stranger questions her father’s death everything Gretchen believes is turned upside down and she is determined to find the truth. Helped by the strangely kind Jew Daniel her quest, hindered by her distant and strange brother and her changing relationship with Hitler and the powerful National Socialist party, leads her to bold and subversive ideas that change her life forever.
Will we ever tire of stories of the wars and of Hitler? I don’t know – but I certainly haven’t. Set in Munich as Hitler’s power rises, Gretchen’s position as an honorary-niece gives a unique perspective of his personality and the tensions of Germany in the period. But really it is Gretchen and her story that is the focus; and this is fascinating in itself. Add in the ever-popular topic of the beginnings of psychoanalysis and you’ve got a winner!
Gretchen is a great main character, with independent thought, no small amount of courage and a healthy curiosity. The first scene, where despite the risk involved she prevents her brother from beating a Jewish man, endears her immediately to the reader and I found myself quickly drawn into her world and her predicament.
It is a challenge that she must in the course of a novel change all of her ideas about the world so utterly. And I think it was largely handled well. She starts off truly believing that Jews are scum (though she does have human compassion) and that her Uncle Alf is the best person she has ever met, but her views are completely overturned by the end.
It is a strange process that seems at one too fast and too slow; to the reader it is obvious, of course, that Hitler is wrong, but then for a girl who has been indoctrinated since childhood it seems quite sudden. I found myself having to quash my doubt and invent reasons why it might work: she is a teenager, and they are disposed to question the world, and of course there is the handsome and persuasive young Jew Daniel. It’s a bit of a stretch of the imagination – but it is worth it.
The plot was fairly predictable but exciting nevertheless; and though the coincidences were hard to believe (the convenient presence of a psychoanalyst in her boarding house, for example) it rang true enough to keep going.
Perhaps the greatest thing I can say about it is, despite these things I really, really enjoyed this book, and will definitely read the next one when it comes out. This is one I’ll be passing on to my sister for a Real Teen Review too!
Thanks Bookbridgr and Headline for the review copy.