First Lines: Gretchen Muller peered through the car’s rain-spotted windshield. Up ahead, a man was crossing the street, so far away that he was little more than a child’s cutout stick figure of spindly legs and arms and head.
Do you ever have those books that you know without a doubt that you have to read as soon as possible? This was one for me. I was intrigued by this twist on your typical WWII story, and I wanted to see what it did.
Gretchen’s life is pretty normal for a girl in 1930s Munich. She’s been raised under the National Socialist party’s wing, particularly under the kind hand of her “uncle” Dolf…who the rest of the world knows as Adolf Hitler. He’s like family to Gretchen, and she’ll do whatever he asks. Then she meets Daniel Cohen, a Jewish reporter. She should hate him, but she can’t help but listen to him when he says her father was killed not as a martyr to the Nazi party, but by someone inside the party. Murder. And when she begins having feelings for Daniel, she realizes not everything she’s been told is true. As Gretchen searches for the truth, she must reevaluate where her loyalties lie. Will she choose safety, or will she find the truth that could kill her?
There’s something that feels really different about this book from other WWII books, and I think it boils down to two things: the setting and Hitler. Let me explain. This book is set in roughly 1932, which is 7 years before the start of WWII. Most stories involving Germany, Jews, and Hitler start well after the war has begun. By setting it in 1932, it allows us to see the life in Germany before Hitler comes to power, though he has already extended his influence around the country. It’s almost creepy.
Which brings me to my second point: Hitler himself. After I finished this book, I began thinking about Hitler, and I think this is the first book I’ve read where Hitler is an actual character in the story. Gretchen sees him in so many different settings and has many conversations with him. Usually, if Hitler crops up in any other story, it’s just from a distance or when he makes a speech. In this book, he’s a real person. You can begin to see why so many people were captivated by him.
I found this book to be clever too in the way the history is infused in the story. I’ve seen other reviews where people have said it feels a lot like an info-dump at times with the history, but that never bothered me. I actually thought the history was subtle. My pre-WWII history isn’t very good, so I ate it up. And I also caught whiffs of things to come in later books. (One probably won’t happen for at least 1-2 books from now. I was proud of myself for finding that one all by myself.)
Psychology plays a rather large role in this book, which is another interest of mine. But goodness, did it put a creepy spin on this story. It’s all good fun at first until you realize that these men you are psychoanalyzing were actually real men who existed and these descriptions are based on historical records. It’s not so fun after that. But still really interesting.
I thought this story was really well done. I enjoyed reading about Gretchen and seeing these historical figures I know so well through her young eyes.