In brief: In Nazi Germany, everyone has to make sacrifices. For Susie to protect her family, she must live a lie and pretend that her soulmate is nothing to her.
The good: An incredible amount of drama in one book.
The not-so-good: Something things seemed to be spelled out a little too much for the reader.
Why I chose it: Sounded interesting. Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC.
Pages: 427 (ARC)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Setting: Germany and Australia
Rating: 7 out of 10
Novels about World War II from the German aspect have been increasing in recent years, offering the reader an opportunity to see the war from multiple viewpoints. I’ve read several over the years, but none have been so dramatic as Letters from Berlin. There is so much packed into the one novel, it’s amazing to think that one person could experience so much heartbreak over their lifetime.
The story is buttressed by a prologue and epilogue that are quite different to the blurb on the back. It is the story of a mother and daughter (Ingrid and Natalie) discovering the mother’s background. The plot then moves to the story of Susie, Ingrid’s mother, in wartime Germany. Susie’s own parents are dead and she had lived for many years with her godparents and their son. They are her family, but there is one problem – her godmother Elya is Jewish, making her son Leo half-Jewish. Elya has been protected up until now thanks to the family’s productive estate and fast talking to the Nazis. But as things become worse for the Nazis, things start to get more desperate. Susie, in love with Leo, knows she can’t be with him. But somehow she must protect her own family… She enters into a pact with a high ranking official in the government to ensure her family’s safety. Still feeling uncomfortable, Susie uses the information she discovers at Nazi functions to assist the German resistance. Will it be enough to save her family and their beloved estate? Will Susie be with Leo?
There is a lot going on in Letters from Berlin – the persecution of the Jewish people, the crumbling Nazi regime and people losing their families and homes. Yet there are a lot of positive things happening too, as Susie and her friend become nurses and help some of the child workers return home. Love is a strong theme in the novel, whether it be romantic love, family love or the love of home. Susie is a very determined character, who makes some rash decisions but seems to always evade trouble. She has quite a few near misses but uses her wits and beauty to get through it. Leo, her true love, is a stronger, quieter character in the novel. He adamantly disagrees with Susie’s choices, but has the wisdom to understand what she is doing. Susie’s godparents are wonderful, strong and willing to support their adopted daughter in any way possible. Even the villains in the novel are portrayed brilliantly. I quite liked the way the character Julius was portrayed as he was brilliantly unpredictable.
One thing that irritated me about Letters from Berlin at times is the way that Susie as the narrator feels the need to push certain points home to the reader. I think her love for her family and Leo shone through the narrative without her repeatedly saying how much she loved them. Likewise with her agreement to keep her family safe. I didn’t feel that the opening and closing of the book with Ingrid and Natalie added much to the story. I was a bit confused that the book was a sequel to another one initially. However, if you enjoy a dramatic story of war, family and love it’s likely that you will be swept away by Letters from Berlin.