Amazon Vine sent me ‘Prisoner of Night and Fog’ by Anne Blankman in exchange for an honest review.
The book is targeted at a teens/YA market, although would be a perfectly acceptable adult read too. I suspect, had it been an adult novel there may have been sexual content, where here the book only goes as far as kissing and wishing. This worked well with the historical content of the book, as the sexual mores of the time would have been a lot stricter, and the book would not have gained anything by containing sex scenes.
The book is not suitable for readers younger than 12 however, as there is a fair bit of violence in it.
The novel tells the story of Gretchen Muller, a young girl who lives in a boarding house with her mother and brother in thirties Munich, just as Hitler is coming to power. Gretchen has nothing to fear from Hitler, her beloved father was one of Hitler’s oldest friends, and took a bullet for Hitler in the botched putsch several years ago when Hitler first tried to take power and failed. Gretchen’s father is widely revered as a martyr who laid down his life for his beloved friend and leader, and Gretchen refers to Hitler as ‘Uncle Dolf’.
Despite his favour, her family live a fairly squalid life running the boarding house, and Gretchen is made miserable by her difficult and unpredictable brother, Rheinhardt, who is moving up through the party ranks. His favoured position in the National Socialist party should bring the family more benefits, but Gretchen finds that it simply enables Rheinhardt to get away with cruel and bullying behaviour at home with no reprisals from anyone. As she bears the brunt of his cruelty, life is becoming increasingly difficult, and when Rheinhardt uses his influence to remove Gretchen from her beloved school, where she is studying in the hope of eventually becoming a doctor, things take a turn for the worse for Gretchen.
Gretchen is employed by Hitler at his party HQ and Gretchen becomes enmeshed n the machinations of the party as their hold on the life of Munich residents becomes increasingly punitive and violent. This does not sit well with Gretchen, and she begins to question her loyalty to the party, particularly when anomalies start to appear in the story of her father’s death. Gretchen becomes determined to find out the truth about her father, and in doing so, her fate is entwined with that of a Jewish reporter, who at first she despises and fears. As she comes to know him better, he shows her how her whole understanding of the world to that point has been built on lies, and Gretchen’s world turns upside down.
The book is pretty well written, and paced well so you want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next. There are some great scenes where the author has really worked to build tension and these are very effective indeed. I enjoyed the historical elements of the novel, finding out more about the Munich of the Thirties and the structure of Hitler’s power base. The character of Gretchen worked well as a vehicle for showing the party from the inside out.
I think it is always difficult to imagine how someone could not be aware of what Hitler was doing with the hindsight of sixty odd years since the war, and it was a risk the author took, making Gretchen sympathetic to the cause initially, as it takes you longer to warm to her as a character. I found myself getting a bit shout with her, but the fact that she was a naive teenage girl does help her, and the author does a good job of writing a convincing case for Gretchen.
The book works well, and I did enjoy it. Even though Gretchen is the main character, and we see everything through her eyes, and even though there is a romance in the book, it is not all of the book, and the book would work very well for both boy and girl readers.