My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Description: Whom do you trust, whom do you love, and who can be saved?
It is 1943—the height of the Second World War—and Berlin has essentially become a city of women.
Sigrid Schröder is, for all intents and purposes, the model German soldier’s wife: She goes to work every day, does as much with her rations as she can, and dutifully cares for her meddling mother-in-law, all the while ignoring the horrific immoralities of the regime. But behind this façade is an entirely different Sigrid, a woman who dreams of her former lover, now lost in the chaos of the war. Her lover is a Jew.
But Sigrid is not the only one with secrets.
A high ranking SS officer and his family move down the hall and Sigrid finds herself pulled into their orbit. A young woman doing her duty-year is out of excuses before Sigrid can even ask her any questions. And then there’s the blind man selling pencils on the corner, whose eyes Sigrid can feel following her from behind the darkness of his goggles.
Soon Sigrid is embroiled in a world she knew nothing about, and as her eyes open to the reality around her, the carefully constructed fortress of solitude she has built over the years begins to collapse. She must choose to act on what is right and what is wrong, and what falls somewhere in the shadows between the two.
In this page-turning novel, David Gillham explores what happens to ordinary people thrust into extraordinary times, and how the choices they make can be the difference between life and death.
My thoughts: What I liked: The point of view of women left in Berlin in 1943. All the Aryan men were gone off to fight a war they wouldn't win. The men who were left were too young to fight, making them boys, or too old. Occasionally, one would come across a man of interesting age but he was usually carrying falsified papers that kept him out of war or prison camps or was Gestapo or some other police.
So in a country of women where the double chromosome is only valued for giving birth to and raising Aryan children, preferably male children, what do the childless women do? This is the story of what some of them do.
What I didn't like: The characters. None of them were terribly endearing. What they said, what they did, their motivations were all disturbing. It's difficult to judge their actions or inaction being Berlin during WWII and I think it was still heroic to save the underdog even when the punishment was torture then death. I just didn't quite understand the main conflict. It was more of the story of one woman whose husband has gone off to war and she occupies her time by working at an office then committing adultery in dark theaters or wherever it can be done outside of her mother in law's eyes. Then she is pulled into an underground network which I thought would surely bring some interest to the story. She thinks she may be harboring her lover's wife and children. But even that conflict doesn't completely bring satisfaction.
I did like the fact that the story is not one more book to shock the reader of the atrocities of WWII and what they did to Jews and political prisoners. There is some shocking detail of Gestapo and concentration camps but it is more of a foreign film with subtitles. The protagonist quietly goes about her business without guilt or shame, growing a conscience when it seems to suit her mood.
It's an interesting book for the simple fact of the point of view. The writing is superb. The characters are unlikeable, though. The story is not terribly engaging. I have no real complaints nor raves. It's a "Meh" book.