I had this on hold at the library, but reading Davida’s review on her blog The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog, made me certain I would want to listen to it and finish it. In the end, I agreed completely with her review and add a few more thoughts. Won’t you be nice and click on the link to her review, read it too, and leave her a comment?
I’ve read a ton the lives and education of girls and women in Nazi Germany. Their indoctrination was an odd mix of the ultra-conservative plus a solitary liberal touch (the need for “pure” babies outweighed the need to shame single mothers being the liberal touch) so this book caught my eye instantly. While Hitler was venerated and worshipped instead of God or Christ, there is so much similarity with the American Quiverfull movement, whose purpose is to “outbreed” their opponents (and so much similarity with EVERY extremely conservative religion or society–even Stalin’s USSR during World War II) that I just kept looking for more and more information. For more on the Nazi Bride Schools read this article from The Daily Mail.
Three young women, just at the age of entering adulthood in Hitler’s Germany in 1938. Hanna embarks on a new life with her Uncle and Aunt, party stalwarts in Berlin, following the death of her mother. A midwife and herbalist, her mother had been a natural healer whose practice was outlawed by the regime. Hanna’s father has sent her Berlin to get her on the correct, safe, path for adulthood. Klara, the daughter of her Uncle and Aunt’s friends, becomes her first friend in Berlin. Both are expected to make advantageous marriages to ranking Nazis. Tilde, half Jewish, is the daughter of a dressmaker who serves both families, and is friends with Klara who apparently has not figured out her heritage.
Both Hanna and Klara are “guided” (forced) into the role of perfect German wives by their aunt or mother. But neither is a 1930’s version of a Stepford Wife-to-be. Particularly not Hanna. When the women are given the “honor” of attending the most exclusive of Hitler’s Bride Schools, the fit with the school’s ethos is less than perfect.
First the picky stuff
- Who used the word “trope” in 1938?
- Swearing–girls like that were NOT brought up to swear. Saying “God” or Damn or Hell even in private would not have occurred to them.
- “It’s complicated….”
- In 1939 Nazi Germany, where professors were under total scrutiny would any professor have spoken out so clearly to a student? Maybe, if he was stupid.
- Did people really say “go to Uni” [University] in 1939? [Since Americans say “college” not “uni” I’m not sure, but I doubt it].
Characters in historical fiction using modern speech or behavior is a pet peeve. Happily, while there were a couple of other things like this, overall it did not lessen my enjoyment of the story. I point it out to show, for the millionth time, that skimping on REAL editors and (apparently) relying on spell check does not produce as wonderful a book as a real, experienced, human editor would.
My Thoughts on the Story
As a modern woman with 20/20 hindsight, I liked Hanna’s spirit. She knew her own mind and didn’t want to marry anyone at that age, let alone an SS Captain in his mid-30s (with her Uncle’s connections she could have landed a much older Colonel, so it wasn’t as bad as all that). She was interested in becoming a doctor or at least going to college–a perfectly normal ambition to someone today. Many young women in the 30s did go to college, but not in all countries.
Klara, too, had spirit. Perhaps because she was with her parents, lifelong habits of obedience let her be more accepting of their influence on her future. Regardless, she was the bolder of the two in reaching out to help Tilde once she admitted knowing her secret. That was admirable. She could be a typical young woman and be both catty to her friend and loving. Her advice to “try to make the best of it” was sincere and very good advice. Once she got over the loss of her potential excellent marriage, and accepted an only slightly lesser one, she at least got a man who seemed sincere and decent in spite of his high party affiliation. But, she took the greatest risk–showing both maturity and immaturity in so doing. Maturity in refusing to see someone as less than human or less than deserving, but immaturity in the way she chose to help. A more mature woman would have done so with much greater discretion.
I have no sympathy for the Nazis, but I do realize they were, in part, educated to be the way they were with the party hyping up the anti-Semitism that was present in all societies then to a fever pitch. Still, the SS were fanatics, so I found it interesting that Friedrich occasionally evidenced some genuine humanity. Of course, his finance, Hanna, was an Aryan and a “good catch” in so many ways. But not many men of that era (or any era), regardless of nationality, religious or political beliefs, would have put up with a finance embarrassing them, though, of course, not all would react in a bad way. I thought Hanna, again, took the risks only the young and naïve would take. A more mature woman would have worked against him in more subtle and more effective ways.
Tilde’s story was nearly miraculous in the way her mother was so swiftly gotten to safety. At that point, lines at the U.S. Consulate were days-of-waiting-long. I also found it tough to believe she fell for Samuel that quickly. Through the mother-right, she was born Jewish, but in Nazi terms, she did not “look” Jewish. She was hiding in plain sight. The young take risks so lightly no matter how noble and honest it was of her to embrace her heritage.
I found this book well written–the story was so compelling I kept listening in the evenings at home–I just HAD to hear more! Even so, I was very disappointed though, that little to nothing of the actual Bride School experience was in the book–that was just a “hook” of a title and a handy location for the ending. I would like to have read much more about that experience which was meant to make fanatical followers of Hitler and perfect German wives–especially for S.S. officers like Friedrich. In that, the book failed to deliver. Regardless, I still found it a very good story.
For more on the Nazi Bride Schools read this article from The Daily Mail
Nazi Wives by James Wyllie