Today I am marking off my second checkpoint category for the POPSUGAR READING CHALLENGE 2020 with:
Set against the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials of 1963, Annette Hess’s international bestseller is a harrowing yet ultimately uplifting coming-of-age story about a young female translator-caught between societal and familial expectations and her unique ability to speak truth to power-as she fights to expose the dark truths of her nation’s past.
If everything your family told you was a lie, how far would you go to uncover the truth
For twenty-four-year-old Eva Bruhns, World War II is a foggy childhood memory. At the war’s end, Frankfurt was a smoldering ruin, severely damaged by the Allied bombings. But that was two decades ago. Now it is 1963, and the city’s streets, once cratered are smooth and paved. Shiny new stores replace scorched rubble. Eager for her wealthy suitor, Jürgen Schoormann, to propose, Eva dreams of starting a new life away from her parents and sister. But Eva’s plans are turned upside down when a fiery investigator, David Miller, hires her as a translator for a war crimes trial.
As she becomes more deeply involved in the Frankfurt Trials, Eva begins to question her family’s silence on the war and her future. Why do her parents refuse to talk about what happened What are they hiding Does she really love Jürgen and will she be happy as a housewife Though it means going against the wishes of her family and her lover, Eva, propelled by her own conscience , joins a team of fiery prosecutors determined to bring the Nazis to justice-a decision that will help change the present and the past of her nation.
The German House by Annette Hess, a successful screenwriter, was first published in Germany in 2018 as Deutsches Haus. The Harper Collins copy I read has been translated into English from German by Elisabeth Lauffer. Set in the challenging years of settlement following World War II in Germany, this is a tale of truth, lies and revelations. I thought it was a moving tale of post war Germany.
Eva Bruhns leads The German House, written by Annette Hess, which was first released in Germany in 2018. Like many young German people of this time period, the war is a distant memory, foreshadowing their childhood only a little. Eva’s parents, like many other German citizens are determined to put the war behind them and they have welcomed the post war boom in their country with open arms. The Bruhns own a restaurant in Frankfurt, which is experiencing Germany’s change in fortune. Eva is a translator, but she has plans to leave this career soon to become a housewife. But while Eva waits for her love to request her hand in marriage, her life is irrevocably changed by a request from an investigator. Eva is asked to use her skills as an interpreter to work on the upcoming Frankfurt Trials. As Eva works day after day translating the victim testimonies from Polish to German, she begins to take on their harrowing ordeals. Eva also begins to question her family’s past, along with her preoccupation for her love Jürgen and her future plans to be a housewife. As the days draw on it is clear that her parents are keeping something very important from her, can she unlock their secrets from the past? Annette Hess takes on the daunting, but essential task of unpacking the historical Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials. Hess providers us with a unique insider’s view of this unprecedented time in our history books. Along the way family, love, loyalty, truth, power and perspective are all important themes raised in The German House.
As a World II fiend, I am continually searching for new and unique stories to come out of this pivotal point in our world history. The German House immediately gained my interest from the blurb and I was keen to delve into a book that concentrates on the post-World War II experience, based in the location of such atrocity, Germany. Hess takes a very visual, thoughtful, sensitive and insightful glimpse into this location and period from our past.
It wasn’t until I started compiling this review that it dawned on me that The German House is in fact a coming of age, or a ‘bildungsroman’ style novel. The narrator is a little older than I would expect for this category, but I could see the links. Eva is a likable narrator and she does go through quite a transformation from the beginning to the end of the novel. She begins this story as a young woman who still lives at home with her parents, with little aspirations in her life beyond marriage and life as a housewife. This is very typical for the era, so Hess is on point with her time period representation. However, Eva’s pivotal work as a translator, which leads her directly into the path of one of the most monumental trials of the century, is life changing, as well as awakening. It ignites a sense of compassion, justice and an effort to put things as right. It will see Eva bravely enter the gates of Auschwitz and confront her family about their dubious past. I liked this part of the novel very much.
There are a few side plots that seem to detract from the core aspects of the novel that moved me and I wanted more from. The trials themselves were depicted with a sense of accuracy and sensitivity. But I seemed to crave more of this aspect, perhaps I will use the helpful Author’s Note to delve more into this subject matter. I also found the threads based on Eva’s sister and brother a little odd, detracting from the story at hand. While Eva’s love interest Jürgen lacked a sense of empathy and understanding, he was quite selfish! However, the focus Eva’s parents was vital to this story, providing an eye opening revelation and a personal slant to this compelling story. The insertion of the compelling story from Eva’s parents helped to tip this one just over the edge in the rating department for me.
If World II fiction is your fare, The German House is one you should investigate. It provides a rare glimpse into life in Germany in the 1960s, combined with an awakening tale of a young woman, under the backdrop of one of the most towering trials of the twentieth century.
**** 4 stars
The German House by Annette Hess was published on 18th November 2019 by Harper Collins. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.