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Shadows of Berlin

A Novel

by David R. Gillham

Shadows of Berlin by David R. Gillham X
Shadows of Berlin by David R. Gillham
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2022, 416 pages

    Jan 24, 2023, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Power Reviewer
Susan Roberts

Fantastic Book
The novel starts in 1955 in New York City where Rachel lives with her husband Aaron. Rachel has only been in the United States for several years after entering the country from Germany as a displaced person with her uncle, her only family left alive after the war. She tries to acclimate to life in New York as a housewife but is consumed with her memories of war time Berlin and the survivor's guilt that haunts her.

Even though Rachel is living what should be a happy life with her husband, her memories are easily triggered about her life in Berlin during the war. Her husband had been in the Army during the war but never left the US and she tells him constantly that he has no idea of what it was like to be a Jew in Berlin during the war...how she and her mother, a famous painter, hid in plain sight and tried not to be discovered by the Gestapo...how she never had enough food and rarely had a bed to sleep in. Every day was a struggle and when she and her mother were discovered by the Gestapo, life got much worse as they struggled to stay alive despite the ever growing threats to their lives. Now she's in New York and can buy food, travel round town, dress well and always has a place to sleep. Her husband loves her and tries to make her happy but she is so overwhelmed with her survivor's guilt that she isn't able to truly return his love. Her mind is constantly remembering her life in Germany with her mother and it takes very little for her to remember her past.

When her uncle calls and tells her that he's found one of her mother's painting at a pawnshop, she has to see it despite the memories that it brings. Rachel believed that all of her mother's paintings were destroyed by the Germans. She tries to buy it but someone else buys it first. Rachel is also an artist but won't return to her painting because she feel that her talent is nothing compared to her mother. Aaron tries to help her acclimate to her life in New York but is not successful. He would love to have children but doesn't push the issue because she just doesn't feel like she can bring a child into this world or be a good mother to her child.

I read many WWII era books but this is the first one I've read that takes such a introspective look at a survivor of the war and the way they deal with their guilt - not only that they survived and others didn't but also their thoughts that they could have done something - anything to save people that they loved. This is a beautiful look at loss and love and learning to live with memories of the past.

This is a fantastic, well written book about survival, redemption and learning to love again - not only your family but more importantly yourself. This book haunted me after I finished it and I was unable to start a new book for a few days. Even weeks after I finished it, I still think about Rachel and her valiant struggle to learn from her past and not allow her past memories control her current life.
Power Reviewer
Tired Bookreader

Another Chapter
Will we ever know what really happened during the holocaust? Really know? Recently, several books have been published to shine light on another aspect of the fear and horror, and decisions that had to be made in order to stay alive.

These stories are truly appreciated. Shadows of Berlin explained two new 'sins' of the terror bestowed on people just trying to live their lives. Reading this book has had me thinking about the aftermath of these characters...it will stay with me a long time.

Thank you, David Gillham.
Dorinne Dobson

Shadows of Berlin
This is a novel of World War II. The Jewish protagonist, Rachel Perlman, was a child during the war, fleeing or hiding with her mother and her Uncle Fritz. Rachel finally escapes Germany with her Uncle Fritz and arrives in New York City. There she meets and marries Aaron Perlman. Her life in America is not normal however as she suffers from guilt feelings resulting from her traumatic life during the holocaust. This story is an intimate portrait of what life was like for the Jewish people in Europe during the holocaust and the toll it took on their lives after the war was over.
Cindy R

Survivor's guilt
Rachel survives WWII in Berlin hiding with her painter, mother as an U-boat girl, but once she arrives in New York City, surviving doesn't mean she's left the horrors of war behind. Her mother doesn't survive, but in Berlin Rachel finds herself under the control of a Jewess, who is called "The Angel of Death," because she turns Jews over to the Nazis. Their arrangement saves Rachel. David R. Gillham once again looks back at WWII for his new novel, SHADOWS of BERLIN (Sourcebooks). For Rachel, a displaced Jew, the past is as close as the present.

Rachel arrives in New York City with her Uncle Fritz who survived the war doing "what he had to do to survive." Once in America, Rachel marries Aaron, "a nice boy from Flatbush," who has no idea what she has experienced in Berlin. She sees a psychiatrist weekly, which Aaron reminds her is costing them a lot of money. Aaron's family warmly accepts her into the family but doesn't understand what she has faced and often find themselves walking on eggshells.

Rachel does her best to try and become an "American Housewife," but she is unable to outrun her guilt. It's when her Uncle discovers one of her mother's paintings in a pawn shop that the memories begin to terrorize her,
forcing Rachel to face what choices she made to survive.

SHADOWS of BERLIN takes us from cafes in Berlin to manic 1950's Manhattan where one is constantly on the move. It's all about trying to find the peace and forgiveness you don't believe you deserve to survive a new chapter in your life. Rachel is completely broken down in order to take baby steps towards her future. SHADOWS of BERLIN is about guilt and forgiveness, love and loss and the long lasting memories and shadows of the dead which remain with the living.

In sections, this is a difficult novel to read, but not to be missed.
Power Reviewer
Elizabeth@Silver's Reviews

Elizabeth@Silver'sReviews - Another Gem by Mr. Gillham
The trauma, horror, and survivor guilt never leave you...Rachel knows it all very well.

Rachel is now in America and married to Aaron, but her time during the war haunts her, and she can't be happy.

We follow Rachel as she can’t help re-living the horror and tries to be a good American wife.

She resents that Aaron has family and she has lost everyone but Uncle Fritz. She had lived with Uncle Fritz when they came to America until she married Aaron. Uncle Fritz can be an "operator." He was during the war and still appears to be.

Rachel goes through her days with the smallest thing reminding her of the war and her crime and speaks to and sees her critical mother.

One day Uncle Fritz who always needs money summoned her to meet him because he found a painting in a pawn shop her mother had painted and one that had survived the war. The only problem is that they couldn't afford the fifty dollars to buy it. When they went back to try to get it at a cheaper price, the painting had been sold.

That photo brought back bad memories, but she wants it.

Rachel doesn't trust her Uncle and thinks he found fifty dollars and took the painting and sold it for more money.

We go back and forth from wartime to present day as Mr. Gillham masterfully blends both timelines and as you are feeling what Rachel is feeling during the horror of wartime and her suffering in present day as she tries to forget and to adapt to her life in America.

SHADOWS OF BERLIN is another gem by Mr. Gillham that will tear at your heartstrings but also have you hoping that Rachel can overcome her nightmares and be happy. 5/5

This book was given to me by the publisher for an honest review.
K Johnson

Not what I expected, but better
I thought this was going to be a love story. Boy from New York charms 'lost' girl - boy offers family, home, love, marriage...escape from her past. This is not a love story. This is a story of a woman with demons, facing ghosts, a past too painful to tell and way too fast to outrun. But she doesn't run, she succumbs and at times allows it to nearly swallow her. She sees doctors for the sake of others, but for her, the suffering is deserved.
I was so moved by this book, and parts of it were relatable to my own childhood. I even dog-eared page! (Not a spoiler alert) "Children who are...who are made to feel rejected at a very early age. Even in infancy. They are often vulnerable to deep feelings of shame as an adult." pg. 226-227. It goes on, but that struck a chord for me.
This is unlike many historical fiction circa WWII novels I've read. This is a young woman that survived, yet can't face living.
I appreciate her struggle but I fought with her when she fought with her husband. Fearful of her surroundings at all times. Who is watching her? Can they see my sin?
She is certain that no one will ever understand her struggle and she carries the weight of pain and guilt at all times. Can she ever forgive herself?
I liked the play of time periods. It went back and forth, memories past and present, easy to follow, and relatively short chapters. Amount of characters were managed well without confusion. For the most part, the inclusion of Yiddish, Jewish, and German was okay and usually immediately explained. She smoked A LOT! But, it was who she was and the level of stress, and fit with the time period, it was her character.
This is a book of the painful survival of the prisoner within.

My favorite genre, or perhaps, obsession used to be WWII fiction. I stopped reading them because I wasn’t finding anything new and I felt I was becoming somewhat immune to the graphics which seemed to be inevitable. Shadows of Berlin is an exception. It’s a powerful and truly moving story of a survivor, one who carries the pain, the memory of the suffering and the guilt of surviving long after the war is over. Rachel has survived, moved to New York and married but her scars run so deep that they are at times so overwhelming, even after many years, that her marriage and even her life teeters on the edge. I felt her pain so deeply yet the story is written without being graphic which makes this story so unique. It left me rooting for Rachel, her husband and her soon to be baby,
Power Reviewer

Interesting main character
Thank heaven! At last, a post-WWII novel that isn't exactly like all the others.
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Shadows of Berlin
by David R. Gillham
A captivating novel of a Berlin girl on the run from the guilt of her past and the boy from Brooklyn who loves her.

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