Motherland by Maria Hummel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book accomplishes exactly what the author was shooting for, I think. The story is loosely based upon her father and his grandparents at the end of WWII in Germany. Frank, a youngish father becomes a widower with the birth of his third son. Within short months he marries Liesl and is drafted as a surgeon for the Weimar. Close to the end of the war, Frank goes AWOL and returns to his villa, the villa where his young wife and three sons live, along with some displaced refugees, assigned by the government.
The story is not one of grand heroism or atrocious mistreatment. The war is the background to the goal of keeping the children safe, returning home, and protecting one another. This is the basic story of the author's grandparents. Her father did not know about the Holocaust until he was 15 years old. Frank and Liesl hear rumors but see no concentration camps, witness no heinous cruelty to Jews, but are aware of the discrimination. They are aware the Jewish people have left. They may have even heard some rumors that were disturbing. So inhumane, they would have brushed them off as fabricated. Liesl was busy raising the boys. The oldest son was becoming belligerent, the middle son was suffering from a condition referred to as "dystrophy," or some sort of mental illness, the baby was growing from infant to toddler. Their attention was on securing daily food, staying warm, and hiding during air raids. Frank was on the front, consumed by one surgery after another by day and escaping by night.
I found the story to be a probable common one in Nazi Germany living outside Berlin, Frankfurt, and Dresden. The men are gone and the mothers are scrabbling to care for their children without an income, little food, and sharing homes. The author also chose to include a piece of the Germany that Hitler envisioned, the Aryan Nation and master race. What would happen to the children who were Aryan but unwell? She uncovers insane asylums for the children who are mentally unstable or disabled and the solution at the time, including the harrowing concerns of a mother caring for a child displaying these behaviors.
The writing style did not flow for me. There were portions I had to re-read to understand the undercurrent. Like real life, everything is not resolved in the end. There are substories that I wanted better closure for the ending. Background information was sparse and difficult to cobble together for me. It is not an exciting book but it is a worthwhile read. Like I mentioned, I believe it is probably a common childhood for many families.