NOTE: I was given early access to this manuscript in exchange for writing an impartial review. Thank you NetGalley and Ballantine Books. Publication Date: April 18, 2023
A fast-moving, suspenseful, page turning historical novel that weaves together so many major themes from World War II: resistance fighting, concentration camps, medical experimentation on prisoners, “ratlines” (helping Nazis escape justice) after the end of World War II, and Cold War espionage. However, it is definitely NOT an easy book to read. The brutality of what humans can do to one another, both in and outside of war, is front and center.
The two principle characters are two strong women:
- Josie, the daughter of an American diplomat who comes from a background of privilege, and
- Arlette, a young, half-Jewish mother, with a baby fathered by her German lover before he left to fight for the Nazis.
The two women become close friends when both get involved in the resistance movement, sabotaging Nazi activities in occupied France. Sabotaging SO successfully, in fact, that they earn a reputation for supplying valuable information to the British and their allies.
This resistance work in Paris provides one storyline in the novel. Their time at the all-women Ravensbrück Concentration Camp provides a second. And the third story thread involves Arlette’s efforts to locate her son after the war, after being separated from him at Ravensbrück.
Like so many contemporary novels, this one moves back and forth in time among the three storylines. I personally found this a frustrating writing construct. Because piecing together bits of story (and having to remember small details) made it somewhat more difficult to follow the plot. And to me, added nothing.
Nevertheless, it’s a compelling read from the very first page. And what makes it so suspenseful throughout is that you are never sure which of the many secondary characters introduced can be trusted. Some you initially believe are “good” turn out to be less so. Others you suspect turn out to be heroes. Those interested in World War II should NOT miss this one!
More about the author, Martha Hall Kelly.
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