It is 1943 - the height of the Second World War - and Berlin has essentially become a city of women. In this page-turning novel, David Gillham explores what happens to ordinary people thrust into extraordinary times, and how the choices they make can be the difference between life and death.
It is 1943 - the height of the Second World War - and Berlin has essentially become a city of women.
Sigrid Schröder is, for all intents and purposes, the model German soldier's wife: She goes to work every day, does as much with her rations as she can, and dutifully cares for her meddling mother-in-law, all the while ignoring the horrific immoralities of the regime. But behind this façade is an entirely different Sigrid, a woman who dreams of her former lover, now lost in the chaos of the war. Her lover is a Jew.
But Sigrid is not the only one with secrets.
A high ranking SS officer and his family move down the hall and Sigrid finds herself pulled into their orbit. A young woman doing her duty-year is out of excuses before Sigrid can even ask her any questions. And then there's the blind man selling pencils on the corner, whose eyes Sigrid can feel following her from behind the darkness of his goggles.
Soon Sigrid is embroiled in a world she knew nothing about, and as her eyes open to the reality around her, the carefully constructed fortress of solitude she has built over the years begins to collapse. She must choose to act on what is right and what is wrong, and what falls somewhere in the shadows between the two.
In this page-turning novel, David Gillham explores what happens to ordinary people thrust into extraordinary times, and how the choices they make can be the difference between life and death.
THE BLIND MAN TAPS his cane rhythmically. Three taps, three taps, three taps to gain the attention of passing Berliners. He is a cadaverous sentry with a shaved pate under an old soldier's cap, selling pencils from a canister strung about his neck. A pyramid of dots is stamped onto the armband he wears, and his round black goggles are like two holes poked through the day, letting the night bleed through. Sigrid fishes out the coin purse from her bag as she emerges from the U-Bahn stairwell, and drops a few groschen into his cup. "Bless you," he rasps in answer to the jangle. "Please choose a pencil." She thanks him, but when he turns his head in the direction of her voice, something behind the blindness of those goggles seems to mark her. She puts the pencil into her handbag and crosses the street at the signal.
Tickets for the matinee are three and a half marks now. Up fifty pfennigs. But Sigrid pays the increase without complaint. Today's feature is titled Soldiers of...
Gillham's background as a screenwriter is evident throughout the narrative. He describes a bombed-out Berlin with an eye for detail so perfect his readers will have no difficulty envisioning the scenes he's depicting.
Beyond creating vivid scenes, the author does a masterful job of conveying the privations and constant sense of tension in the war-torn city. He illustrates the sacrifices the citizens of Berlin make for the war effort, the rationing and constant calls for donations of food and clothing they endured.
Gillham combines compelling characters and vivid descriptions of war-torn Berlin into a fast-paced plot that comes across as a surprisingly compelling and original story. (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).
Full Review (914 words).
Berlin, Germany's capital city, was home to more than four million citizens at the start of WWII.
Between 1940 and 1945, the city was the target of 363 air raids, with an estimated 20,000 civilians killed during the period. The most significant and organized series of raids occurred from November 1943 to March 1944.
The controversial mission was led by Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris, the Commander-in-Chief of Britain's Bomber Command, the branch of the Royal Air Force (RAF) that controlled Britain's bomber forces. Harris felt that a concerted air attack against the German capital would break the morale of its citizens and cause Germany to capitulate. "It will cost us between 400 and 500 aircraft," he is reported to have said, "but it ...
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Winner of the 2015 BookBrowse Fiction Award
Vivid and exquisite in its illumination of a time and place that was filled with great monstrosities, but also great humanity and strength, a novel that will have readers talking long after they turn the last page.
The bestselling author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand returns with a breathtaking novel of love and war that reaches far beyond the small English town in which it is set.
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