This is a deeply flawed attempt to explain World War II through a single Jewish family and a single Nazi family. Generously Awarded three stars on Goodreads.
It goes without saying that any author who writes about Jews and Nazis in Germany during World War II has lots of drama to draw upon. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Roberta Kagan tried to tie together so many threads in this novel that the believability of the story and characters suffered.
The Abdensterns are a loving Jewish family who are slow to realize the growing danger of Adolph Hitler’s rise to power. And of course they have a beautiful, gifted daughter, Leah, who ultimately falls in love with the physically perfect specimen of Detrick Haswell.
The Haswells are Aryans. Father Hans, broken by his service during World War I and the economic woes in Germany during the 1920s, is a brutal drunk. His wife, the steadfast Inga, manages to barely support the family and raise her two children. Sound a bit trite yet?
Here’s the bigger problem for me. Through just these two families, the author tries to squeeze in all of the following elements:
– The Nazi Lebensborn program to turn the children of unwed mothers into a master race.
– The fate of Jews who escaped before the war, moving to America.
– The privileges enjoyed by Nazi party members.
– Jewish families hiding in attics.
– Underground resistance to Nazis and the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
– Destruction and/or confiscation of Jewish goods and homes.
– Secret murder by Nazis of those who are disabled.
– Transport of Jews to concentration camps and the conditions they faced there.
– Nazi medical experiments on Jewish prisoners.
And throughout, the dialog between characters simply doesn’t ring true because the author uses dialog to explain terms to the reader. (Example: No Jew would ever say to another Jew, “We will say Kaddish, our prayer for the dead, later.” Because both would know what the word Kaddish meant)
The inherent drama of this historical period in history certainly keeps the plot moving but the writing lacks subtlety and authenticity. A few chapters about a young girl living as a gangster’s moll in Chicago seem completely out of place and must be there to help set up another book in this series (my guess). Most characters are either good or bad, with few having any more complex shades of gray. Maybe this author’s style simply needs more time to mature.
More about the author, Roberta Kagan.