The premise of this book is based on the question “What would you do?” What would you do if a woman sat down next to you and begged you to tell the Gestapo that she had been with you the entire time? Sigrid, a lonely woman in 1943 Berlin, decides to lie to shield Ericha Kohl. This is how her involvement in shielding and moving Jews out of Berlin begins, how she slowly opens her eyes to the anti-Semitism and prosecution that is taking place around her. A plot like this is right down my alley, but in the end, this book was not for me.
I like historical fiction precisely because of the historical background, and there wasn’t enough of that in this book for me. I’ve lived in Berlin for a while, and it was fun to recognize places and names. Some of the events take place close to where my apartment was. But despite all the streets, subway stations, and places that are mentioned, I felt like the story could have taken place anywhere.
I also wondered a bit about Sigrid. Her husband is fighting in Russia, and she is staying with her bitter mother-in-law while working full-time at the Patent Office. Despite food rationing and interrupted service of the public transportation system, she has plenty of time and money to go to the movies and have not one, but two affairs. At one point, both of her lovers are in the neighboring flat at the same time, which I found unbelievable and unnecessary for the story. I also didn’t care too much for Sigrid, and I considered some of her actions to be out of character. I suppose it is only realistic that a person who is against her will confronted with the question of how much personal safety to risk for someone else to be undecided for a while, but here the constant back and forth only made me not care for Sigrid.
Lastly, before reading this book, I had never heard of the name “Ericha,” who is the second main character. I kept thinking it should be “Erika” and was thus constantly irritated by what I perceived as a misspelling. (The editor in me could not be turned off; sometimes, I annoy myself.)
On the upside, there were parts, especially towards the end, where the story was so suspenseful that I couldn’t put the book aside.
I was thinking about labeling this “World War II for the beach,” but that would be harsh, considering that my objections are very subjective. I might also be extra critical because I’ve read some impressive war books recently, which has set my standards very high.