Inspiration for Reading: Historical fiction has been my genre of choice for nearly as long as I can remember. I pretty much went from reading Boxcar Children mysteries to historical fiction. And in particular, a novel about women during World War II is always sure to catch my attention.
From the back cover:
New York, present day: On a whim, Juno Lambert buys a 1931 Underwood typewriter that once belonged to celebrated journalist Cordelia Capel. Within its case she discovers an unfinished novel, igniting a transatlantic journey to fill the gaps in the story of Cordelia and her sister and the secret that lies between them.
Europe, 1936: Cordelia’s socialite sister Irene marries a German industrialist who whisks her away to Berlin. Cordelia, feistier and more intellectual than Irene, gets a job at a newspaper in Paris, pursuing the journalism career she cherishes. As politics begin to boil in Europe, the sisters exchange letters and Cordelia discovers that Irene’s husband is a Nazi sympathizer. With increasing desperation, Cordelia writes to her beloved sister, but as life in Nazi Germany darkens, Irene no longer dares admit what her existence is truly like. Knowing that their letters cannot tell the whole story, Cordelia decides to fill in the blanks by sitting down with her Underwood and writing the truth.
When Juno reads the unfinished novel, she resolves to uncover the secret that continued to divide the sisters amid the turmoil of love, espionage, and war. In this vivid portrait of Nazi Berlin, from its high society to its devastating fall, Jane Thynne examines the truths we sometimes dare not tell ourselves.
I had a lot of feelings while reading this book. I have a significant amount of German heritage, including my grandmother who was born in Nuremburg in 1935. While she has resided in the United States for much of her life, she is still a German citizen. She is finally willing to talk more about her life and family in Germany as well, and while she mentions her parents, aunts, and uncles I know that statistically speaking, I must be related to Nazis. I learned I have a great-uncle who died in the war. And he was German, fighting for the Germans. And I can’t change that, nor am I responsible for his actions. I’m responsible for myself and what I put out into the world. But it does provoke complex emotions when you spend your whole life being told that all Germans were bad in World War II while knowing that you come from those people. So what does it say about you? What should it say about you?
These were some of the thoughts and emotions I had while reading this book. I didn’t really think that this particular book would make me deep dive into my own brain like that, but the book, on top of my work, really caused me to think about things. I’m a genealogist and I deal with women who try to prove that they are descendants of American Revolutionary War patriots. And they get really offended if you have to tell them that their ancestor did not actually contribute to the American cause or that they supported the British. They seem to think it someone makes them less patriotic than their friends. And I just ask myself why? The past is complex and while we can all hope we were descended from angelic people, that is not the case for 99.99% of the world. What bearing should your ancestors’ past actions have on you?
This probably isn’t what you were expecting in a book review, but it’s what the book made me think about, so I wanted to share it. This book, like many books I am drawn to, is one of sisters and their unbreakable relationship. It tells what happens to them when they end up on different sides of a war. Irene is trapped and Cordelia is too idealistic to understand what that means for Irene. Through Irene’s eyes, we get to see what Berlin was like before, during, and after World War II and what some of the experiences were like for German women or those who had married German husbands. Through Cordelia, we see her struggle with what she perceives as her sister’s betrayal while also do everything she can to help the Allies achieve much-needed victory. It’s a story of survival, love, and friendship, and if you have any German heritage, might make you think of what words your own family may have never written down either.
Rating: 8 out of 10