In 1980 a couple living in Germany renovating their home found letters in the wall, hidden by a German hospital worker who deserted his post as a radiologist, and was making his way back to his wife and children, in the final days of WW2. The letters belonged to the author’s grandfather.
These events are the basis of the novel “Motherland”. Maria Hummel does a great job of telling the story in an impartial way (I used to think, “HOW could the German citizens NOT know what was happening?” now I think I understand why…), while, at the same time providing the reader with such genuine-ness in characters that they are caught up in the story and can’t help reading to find out what happens!
“She couldn’t name the day it started to change – maybe the afternoon she’d met Frank, or maybe eavesdropping on the Hadamar doctor, or maybe when the quiet, gentle piano player disappeared because he was rumored to have Jewish blood. Maybe it was the first air ride siren, or the tenth….
… at some point after 1940, after Paris fell and London was burning, a new kind of etiquette swept through them all like a chilly wind. Suddenly trust and good faith were out of fashion, and it was more seemly to be careful about what you said and to whom you said it. Imperceptibly, Liesl’s anxiety deepened, worsened as the Wehrmacht began to lose instead of win, as more citizens were drafted to military projects in the east, and gaunt, dull-eyed gangs of political prisoners fixed the streets…
A wrong word might get you a bad assignment. Liesl found her eyes shifting from side to side as she spoke, checking to see who was listening.”
The author has done a great job of writing about the lives of ordinary German citizens and involving the reader in the sad events of the latter end of WW2. Not a pretty story, but one of hardship, survival, family love and sacrifice, and one that will make the reader think and consider how life might have been for thousands of German citizens who did not support Hitler’s regime in wartime but had to live with the ramifications of those in power.
“You know what I do?” said Frau Winter as Liesl poured the milk, wincing as the glass burned her fingertips. It was too hot.
From the rooms above she heard Jurgen begin to cry.
“No,” Liesl snapped. She topped off the bottle with cold milk from the icebox. Was it still too hot? She couldn’t tell.
“I think they are running around and around because they are looking for their father,” said Frau Winter. “And they can’t find him anywhere.”
Their father. She tested the milk with her finger. She couldn’t tell.
The baby’s cry shook her skull.
“And so I tell them that Fuhrer is their father. The Fuhrer is watching them,” Frau Winter said from behind her. “Because maybe they aren’t scared of me. But they are always scared of him.”