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Blog Tour Review: Letters From Berlin by Tania Blanchard

on October 14, 2020

Letters From Berlin
Tania Blanchard
Simon & Schuster AUS
2020, 415p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Berlin, 1943

As the Allied forces edge closer, the Third Reich tightens its grip on its people. For eighteen-year-old Susanna Göttmann, this means her adopted family including the man she loves, Leo, are at risk.

Desperate to protect her loved ones any way she can, Susie accepts the help of an influential Nazi officer. But it comes at a terrible cost – she must abandon any hope of a future with Leo and enter the frightening world of the Nazi elite. 

Yet all is not lost as her newfound position offers more than she could have hoped for … With critical intelligence at her fingertips, Susie seizes a dangerous opportunity to help the Resistance.

The decisions she makes could change the course of the war, but what will they mean for her family and her future? 

Susanna Göttmann’s parents and brother were killed in a car accident but she was unharmed. She was taken in and raised by friends of her parents, her Onkel George, an aristocratic German and his wife Tante Elya, a Russian Jewish woman who had fled her homeland. There’s also their son Leo, who is a friend to Susanna during the hardest time in her life. The family live on a large property that provides well and when WWII breaks out, the fat contracts they have supplying things like timber, meat and produce keep them relatively removed from the harshness of war and protect Elya and Leo from being persecuted as a Jewish person and a mischling, a sort of slur used against what Germans call “half-breeds”, offspring of a German who is married to someone of the Jewish faith. Susanna’s parents were both well-to-do Germans and as such she is protected from the dangers of work or prison camps but she’s incredibly concerned about her aunt, a woman who was a mother to her and also Leo, who has become the great love of her life. He returns her feelings but to protect her, says nothing can come of it because of his status and the fact that things could change and he could be placed in a camp at any time. Instead, Susie accepts the help of a family friend who promises to protect her and her family if she agrees they are seen as “courting” – he’s quite high ranking with some power and influence and Susie sees this decision as a necessary evil to protect those she loves and who gave her a warm, loving home and upbringing after the loss of her parents and brother.

I’ve read quite a few books set during World War II, it’s a period in time which is incredibly popular in fiction but I haven’t read a lot that focuses on Berlin itself, where a lot of people were still going about their lives. They’re removed from the fighting and although there are air raids, people are still doing things like going to the opera. Susanna is at college, something that many people don’t approve of as women should be looking to make good marriages and any women working will stop once Germany win the war anyway and all the men come home. For a large part, Susanna’s life is not particularly touched by the ins and outs of the war and probably if her aunt was not a Russian person of Jewish faith, there would’ve been even less impact. But although Elya’s protected by her status as someone married to a German, there’s always the chance this could be changed and more and more Jewish people are removed from the country. Susanna has such fear that something will happen to Elya and Leo and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to protect them, even though it means she’ll sacrifice the one thing she desires the most. I think because of this determination she has to do whatever she can to help protect them, it does mean that she overlooks some things or doesn’t want to see how potentially she has tied herself to someone who has ulterior motives in their offering of protection.

I started this intending to read just 100p because I knew my tour date was coming up soon and I wanted to get it started. I ended up reading the entire book in an afternoon/evening, because I couldn’t put it down. It really sucked me into the story and Susanna’s decisions kept me invested. You know from the prologue that a certain thing happens but not the how/why etc of it happening. Although Nazi politics are always horrifying to read about, the casual way they condemned people to dire conditions and fates, I find it really interesting how they managed to accomplish what they did. There’s quite a bit in this on the changing views of some in the village where Elya lives. She’s someone who has always been kind to the others, considered many of them friends and their property employed or benefited many as well but when Elya is ordered to wear the Star of David, marking her as Jewish, a lot of whispers begin about her life of privilege and how she should be deported with all the rest of them. It escalates to outright hostility and this is indicative I think, of how people turned on former friends and neighbours, maybe even reported them or dobbed them in out of fear or jealousy. No one wanted to be seen as consorting with Jewish people, lest it fall back negatively on them.  George and Elya were wealthy and even during the war for a large portion of time, didn’t particularly seem to be feeling much in the way of hardship which would definitely make some people feel angry. By dividing people, creating a clear us and them, you could change the way people thought about others who had previously been people they liked or admired, or at least stoke their fear enough for them to push those feelings aside. Of course there are people who didn’t agree with Nazi politics and this book has a strong resistance vibe to it, where people become involved with trying to help prisoners of war escape, or with plots to assassinate Hitler. But it’s scary when you realise how many people probably did support it, either enthusiastically or because they feared what would happen if they didn’t.

I really enjoyed this story, I found it incredibly gripping, the sort of book that has you hooked from the first page. It’s got a little bit of everything – danger, mystery, romance (including a sort of forbidden one), strong family relationships and loyalties set against the backdrop of a city and country going through a time of upheaval. I definitely need to read this author’s other books.

8/10

Book #205 of 2020

Letters to Berlin is book #78 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

 


3 responses to “Blog Tour Review: Letters From Berlin by Tania Blanchard

  1. I felt the same and also need to read the author’s other books!

  2. Marg says:

    I really enjoyed this book too! And I need to go back and read her earlier books

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