Hannah discovers for the first time that she has a grandfather living in Germany when her mother dies and leaves her a pile of letters with German addresses. She decides to travel to Germany to meet her German grandfather, and find out more about her mother’s childhood and family. In the process, Hannah uncovers much more than she could have ever imagined, as her mother’s tragic past is slowly revealed.
This book kept me absorbed and caught up in both the era and the characters’ lives! It is a dual story between Hannah and her mother, Lieselotte, alternating between gripping scenes from World War 2 and Hannah’s own present experience and her attempts to find some identification with a grandfather she never knew she had. There are several themes here and a fresh take on a time in history that was so heartbreaking for so many to live through.
Although a couple of the events in the book were a ‘stretch’ for me, as a whole the book was inspiring and gripping. The reader finds that, even though there were situations that were so overwhelmingly tragic, there were also those that refused to bow to Hitler’s demands, choosing rather to suffer the consequences.
The courage of those in particular who chose to resist the laws of Nazi Germany and offer aid to escaping Jews, even at the risk of imprisonment and death, is brought home to the reader as they are caught up in a story that draws them into a time that is unparalleled in human history.
“Secrets She Kept” is both engaging and suspenseful. One cannot but wonder how this story will turn out for each character. Will there be a happy ending when all is so hopeless? Will Hannah ever learn to understand her grandfather, or discover who he really is underneath his secretive exterior? can he truly be as dark as her German guide Carl infers, and will he in turn be able to show Hannah what she is hoping to find within his heart?
But there are also lessons for the reader in this novel of World War 2 Europe, and not just the lessons of history. The choices we make today may not only affect our present situation, but have future, unending consequences; not just for ourselves only, but also for our children and our grandchildren.
The author attempts to portray to the reader that victory is not always a visible, tangible reality. There is a victory that can triumph over the worst of life’s physical circumstances that occurs only within the human heart.
“Every person in this room – every older person you see – has a story they’ve probably kept hidden since the war. What they did, what they didn’t do, what they failed or refused to do. Who their actions impacted, who lived because of something they did, who they allowed to die because of what they did not do… what happened to them because of what others failed to do, what happened to their families… who they shielded… who they betrayed.”
I held my breath.
Just because you see them sitting here, eating soup, sipping coffee, buttering bread, it doesn’t mean they have changed inside – in their thinking. Their outward circumstances have certainly changed since then, yes. But what they think about life, how they viewed the Reich and Hitler’s accomplishments or even his executions.. I would be very surprised if much of that has changed in their minds.”