Rated of 5
The Plum Tree is a good effort on an important subject, but its defects cause it to fall short of its presumed goal, namely to depict life as an ordinary German during and after World War II. The circumstances were dramatic enough, and don’t require the additional melodrama provided by the author to tell the story (no examples given so as to avoid plot spoilers). The dialogue is stilted (a young man to his girlfriend: “When we’re together, we’ll only see each other, not the ugliness around us.” A concentration camp commander to an inmate: “There are men here who have been turned by the evil that surrounds them. Their hearts have been plowed open to reveal the rotten soil of their souls.”). There are annoying and distracting stylistic affectations, such as every “yes” and “no” in dialogue being written as “ja” or “nein” and italicized (to remind us that the characters are really speaking German, not English?). The characters are one-dimensional; the good ones are noble, the bad ones are evil, and there is no one in between. Historical facts are very significantly altered; Dachau was undoubtedly a horrible place, but it was NOT an extermination camp with gas chambers and ovens. A reader who wants to learn about the lives of German civilians during this time period would do much better to choose Ursula Hegi’s Stones from the River.