Title: Prisoner of Night and Fog
Author: Anne Blankman
On the Shelves: Young Adult> Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 22nd April 2014
An explosive, fast-paced thriller set in Nazi Germany. For fans of CODE NAME VERITY and BLACK ROSES.
Gretchen Muller has, as best she can, dealt with the horrors of her family’s past. Her father, a senior Nazi officer, died to save the life of their leader, Adolf Hitler. And now Germany has the chance to be great once more. Swept up in the excitement and passion of life in Munich in 1931, seventeen-year-old Gretchen has embraced the life laid out for her by that leader, her ‘Uncle Dolf’.
But the secrets of the past cannot be silenced forever. When Gretchen receives a letter from an anonymous sender claiming to have more information about her father’s death, she becomes swept up in a desperate and dangerous search for the truth. With the full might of the ever-powerful Nazi party on her tail, it is a race that will risk everything she has and change her life forever… (Goodreads 2014)
I received a copy of this ebook via Netgalley, from the publishers at Headline, in exchange for a full review. Thank you so much Headline and Anne Blankman because honestly? I REALLY enjoyed this book.
Further disclaimer: long review is long because the history geek came roaring out of me like a phoenix from the ashes because YAY HISTORICAL DEBATES WOO.
The story follows a girl named Gretchen Muller, who has grown up during the rise of Germany’s Nazi Regime. Not only that, she has basically been a main feature at the side of Adolf Hitler, who she fondly knows as “Uncle Dolf”. Her father was a friend of Hitler’s during The Great War, and actually saved Hitler from taking a bullet during a protest, which is why Gretchen and her family- her mother and her psychopathic SS brother Reinhard, have been looked after by Hitler and his hierarchy for the last decade or so. But it turns out that this is not exactly true, and Gretchen begins to discover that there is a very dark side to Hitler’s political movement. Everything she has been raised to believe yet not question comes under the microscope, and Gretchen’s world turns upside down as she realises that millions of people are about to be “expelled from Germany”.
I got swept up in this book. I immediately became attached to Gretchen as a character and her plight to find out what the hell happened to her father. I felt so bad for her when she started to discover what the real mission of the Nazis in fact was, and just what “Uncle Dolf” was suggesting in his politics. I always wonder what happened to those children who were born and raised as this political party came to power, and I always felt quite bad for them. They couldn’t really have known the desperation and the poverty that Germany suffered after the First World War, nor could they remember a time “before” Nazi politics- likely because they were never taught it, because all they were raised to believe, but not question, was the “purity of the German Aryan Race” and all that crap. So imagine you’ve been raised with that “knowledge” since you were a baby, and then suddenly your country loses the war and you find out that your country is responsible for absolutely huge, terrifying war crimes against humanity- and that everything you have been taught and have learnt is completely wrong? I wonder about how much stress that must place on a person’s character and mentality, and in that light, I have always pitied those “children of the Nazi party”.
I really enjoyed Gretchen’s character but I also enjoyed that the author did not make out Hitler to be “evil”. Instead, it portrays him through Gretchen’s perspective, as someone who always looked at him as if he were family, who eventually understands what he says- and is terrified by his words and meanings.
The scariest thing about Hitler, is not that many people consider him inherently “Evil”, but it is that it proves that in the darkest of times, a good* politician- can bring out the worst in a nation, and even worse: can get away with mass murder. I mean if you want a modern day example of this, you only have to look at North Korea and the millions of citizens who are missing for what we would consider to be minor issues. Yet when you mention this in daily conversation, people shrug or laugh it off with a joke.
*note: “Good” here does not mean “nice/kind/helpful”, but actually means “Effective and Persuasive”;
Blankman uses Gretchen’s perspective to show not only Gretchen’s world changing, but also Hitler’s psychopathic personality, and how he could alter his attitudes in seconds- as we know well from many documentaries. While including the fact that Hitler suffered from Shell Shock in the first world war, which may have acted as a trigger for many of his mannerisms, painting Hitler not as an “evil devil” but rather as a Human consequence of a four year war which left Europe, and most of it’s people, in ruins and bitter. As someone who has recently explored the issues of mental health in the armed forces for her masters dissertation, I could completely appreciate this.
The thing about people who do horrific things is that we wish we could separate them from ourselves and claim they “are not human” aka “they are not like us”. Actually, they are only human.
This book, like I said, sweeps you up in the mystery of what exactly happened that night, at the protest where Gretchen’s father “saved” Hitler, and the consequences of those actions.
The only thing I didn’t really care for, of course, was the romance between Gretchen and Daniel. I just felt like it tried to distract the reader from the main focus of the book, which would have been fine without that element. The romance was rushed, and it just didn’t feel very believable to me. I didn’t really feel it was needed and that the book should have stayed focused on Gretchen’s understanding of what exactly was going on in Germany. Not every Young Adult book needs a romance. I did have a couple of moments where I rolled my eyes, but for the most part- it was intense, it was well written, and I will be reading future works of this author as a result.
I really recommend this book to anyone who enjoys books set in WW2, generally. I actually enjoyed this book so much that I plan to buy myself a physical copy in the future.
Prisoner of Night and Fog is released in the UK on the 22nd April 2014.