Excerpt from Cradles of the Reich by Jennifer Coburn, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Cradles of the Reich

A Novel

by Jennifer Coburn

Cradles of the Reich by Jennifer Coburn X
Cradles of the Reich by Jennifer Coburn
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2022, 320 pages

    Jul 11, 2023, 416 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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April 1939

If Gundi Schiller thought she had felt sick this morning, it was nothing compared to the wave of nausea that hit her as she walked into Dr. Vogel's office for the results of her pregnancy test and found her mother perched on a chair, knitting needles clacking against each other.

Elsbeth looked up and smiled at her daughter, never dropping a stitch, the thick brown wool in her lap growing into a blanket. Though her mother's presence in the waiting room was an unwelcome intrusion, at the same time, there was nothing that made Gundi feel more safe than having her mother by her side. Since she began university two years ago, Gundi found that she had a tangle of conflicting feelings about her mother.

"Mutti, are you not well?" Gundi asked, hoping that this was all just an odd coincidence. Perhaps Elsbeth was here to see Dr. Vogel about her stiff shoulder. He was the family physician after all. Maybe Dr. Vogel had asked to see Gundi in person rather than reporting the test results over the phone because he wanted to discourage her from having premarital sex. He might want to wag his finger and warn her that next time, she might not be so lucky. Please God, let this be the case.

"I'm feeling wonderful, Liebchen," Gundi's mother said, her knitting needles finally stopping. Elsbeth's smile reminded Gundi of a buttered roll, sweet and filling. It didn't hurt that her mother's body was short and round. Elsbeth lifted her eyebrows. "The more important question is how are you feeling?"

She knows. Gundi's heart sped, and she felt prickles of cold sweat forming around the soft blond wisps of hair that fringed her forehead. How did she find out?

Gundi clung to the fraying possibility that maybe it was an innocent question. "I think my lunch disagreed with me. That's all," she returned with a thin smile.

A nurse with a slick bun resting on the nape of her neck opened the door leading to the exam rooms. "Gundi Schiller," she announced with a melodic voice that belied her severe appearance. When the nurse's gaze found Gundi, she gave her a look the girl had grown used to: instant approval. People seemed to know all they needed to when they took in Gundi's angelic face. Even her one imperfection, the sliver of a gap between her two front teeth, seemed disarmingly appealing. Gundi had enjoyed the attention when she first started to blossom into a woman, but now, by the age of twenty, she was starting to realize that her beauty didn't give her any actual power but rather the illusion of it. Fewer and fewer people seemed interested in what she had to say these days; they smiled and nodded as she spoke while creating their own version of who they wanted this beautiful girl to be.

Gundi silently begged God to confirm that she was not, in fact, pregnant. But she was almost certainly carrying the child of a man she hadn't seen in two months. Gundi knew that Leo would have never left Germany without her, though. And yet where was he?

She closed her eyes for a moment, recalling his voice urging her to run off to Paris with him. They would never have to see another Nazi again. Their resistance work could be even more effective from a safe distance, Leo promised.

She should have listened. No one in the Edelweiss Pirates was anywhere to be found anymore. The only people she could rely on for information were likely in hiding or, worse, had been arrested.

"Fräulein Schiller, the doctor will see you now," said the nurse with some impatience.

Elsbeth rose from her chair and placed her hands on both of Gundi's cheeks, offering a gentle smile. "Dr. Vogel called me this morning. We have a plan."

Gundi's eyes welled with tears. These were the exact words she needed to hear, just not from her mother.

As they walked down the corridor, Elsbeth took two steps for each of Gundi's long strides. Mother and daughter entered Dr. Vogel's office, where there was a second white-­coated man.

Excerpted from Cradles of the Reich by Jennifer Coburn. Copyright © 2022 by Jennifer Coburn. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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