I have a long and beloved relationship with Amy Einhorn books. 95% of the ones I've read have been five star reads for me (and the other 5%...well that's OK. We can't love everything). This lady has a gift for picking books that will change your perspective, rock your world, haunt your dreams. She sniffs out the gems.
This was a highly-anticipated release for AE and for me. Anytime I hear the words "WWII" and "Resistance", my antennae start to cautiously twitch. I love the time period, and I love stories about the ordinary person doing extraordinary things, but because of this, I've become picky. Just any old WWII story won't do. It has to stand out. Well, this one did.
Synopsis: Sigrid Schroder appears to be your model German frau. She is married to a banker-turned-soldier, she works long hours at a patents office, she suffers her live-in mother-in-law, she isolates herself from the horrors occurring around her in 1943 Berlin. Prying back a layer, however, allows us to discover that her marriage is loveless, particularly after her miscarriage. She is lonely and adrift.
One day, while at the cinema, she has a sudden, passionate encounter with a man who becomes her lover. In a city of women, where most of the men are fighting for the Fuhrer, this has been known to happen. The problem is...her lover is a Jew. Sigrid also befriends a 19-year-old woman who is acting as a nanny for a family in the her apartment building, only to find that this women is part of a complex network of a resistance movement...the blind man on the corner, a taxi driver, a pornographic photographer, a doctor, a Nazi general...all individuals willing to take life-threatening risks to do what is right.
As Sigrid gets pulled into this underworld, she begins to learn things about herself she never appreciated. How far she would go for love, or for friendship, or to save innocent lives. How she can no longer turn her head when brutality occurs. But the trick is figuring out who can be trusted.
My thoughts: This was certainly a WWII book that stands apart from the rest. The general plot is one we have heard before. Where it differentiates itself is in the characterization of these women. These are not shrinking violets. These are steely, ball-busting women who carry cyanide pills and revolvers in their purses.
In fact, I was taken aback by the masculine spirit of the story. Two other fitting adjectives would be "gritty" and "dark", which are words I usually throw out when I'm talking about the damaged-homicide-detective-chasing-serial-murderers kind of book. There was a lot of sex, and it wasn't glamorous or romantic. It was needy, urgent attempts at pleasure in the back of a movie theater, in seedy motels, or back alleys. I was also a little alienated by the easy way these women hop from man to man, irregardless of who is married and who is not, for the purposes of passion or an agenda. It was all very feral and debauched.
But the story is one of incredible bravery and the belief in doing right by those who have been victimized. There is fear, exhilaration, and violent painful deaths of those who are caught. It is hard to say I loved this book. It was too harsh for love. But it is a story that will stick in my mind for a long time.
A few words about the audio production: Our narrator for this book was Suzanne Bertish. She does not have many audios on her resume, but I believe she was a good choice. She has a very harsh, gruff, accented voice, which normally is not what I enjoy, but this was exactly as Sigrid should have sounded. Bertish is a British actress that has enjoyed roles on television and the stage.
Audiobook length: 13 hours and 10 minutes (400 pages)
4 out of 5 stars