Through the Eyes of Another - World War Two, a German Perspective

These ten books centre on Germans or Germany itself during the Second World War. The Infiltrators and Valkyrie concentrate on German resistance to the Nazis. Cesare, and Last Flight to Stalingrad look at those fighting for Nazi Germany. The German House, The Undertaking, People Like Us, The Book Thief and Distant Signs feature German citizens and the effects of war, while Mischling set in Auschwitz, Poland, concentrates on the horrors inflicted by German born Nazi Doctor Josef Mengele. Good, evil and everything in-between can be found here, the slide into Nazi control, the horrendous atrocities, the decision to survive, the choice to stand in defiance. It’s not always obvious, that imaginary line in the dirt between right and wrong, it's not always easy to see. These are books that will make you feel, yes, they will also make you think, consider, and wonder, what if that had been me.

The German House

The German House

Author: Annette Hess, Elisabeth Lauffer Format: Paperback Release Date: 12/12/2019

A fascinating and thought-provoking debut novel where the author focuses on the intimate lives of a family, which in turn opens up the Frankfurt Trials after the Second World War. Set in 1963 Germany, Eva Bruhn is hired as a translator for a war crimes trial, as she learns more about the war, her thoughts expand and she begins to question her parents and examine her childhood. Told in four parts, there are no chapters and I found myself constantly on edge and alert as events, characters and time moved backwards and forwards. The story takes its time to develop, allowing access to the family dynamics and Eva’s transition to understanding. Author Annette Hess is a successful screenwriter (which shows), in her note at the end she thanks the Fritz Bauer Institute in Frankfurt where she researched the first Auschwitz trial. She directly quoted from a number of participants at the trial, and merged other statements, so bringing an incredible feeling of reality to a compelling novel. Originally published in German, the translator Elisabeth Lauffer talks of her sense of responsibility to do justice to the story, to translate faithfully and thoughtfully the testimonies of Auschwitz survivors. This is an incredibly moving novel, it examines pack mentality and highlights how quickly humanity can collectively move on, while individual memories are left forever scarred. For a number of reasons The German House isn’t an easy read, it is powerful though, and I have chosen it as a Liz Robinson pick of the month. Visit our 'Women's Words - 60+ works of feminist-minded fiction' to explore our collection of feminist-minded fiction from around the world, and across centuries.

Liz Robinson's Picks of the Month
The Infiltrators

The Infiltrators

Author: Norman Ohler Format: Paperback Release Date: 01/07/2021

Summertime, 1935. On a lake near Berlin, a young man is out sailing when he glimpses a woman reclining in the prow of a passing boat. Their eyes meet - and one of history's greatest conspiracies is born. Harro Schulze-Boysen had already shed blood in the fight against Nazism by the time he and Libertas Haas-Heye began their whirlwind romance. She joined the cause, and soon the two lovers were leading a network of antifascists that stretched across Berlin's bohemian underworld. Harro himself infiltrated German intelligence and began funnelling Nazi battle plans to the Allies, including the details of Hitler's surprise attack on the Soviet Union. But nothing could prepare Harro and Libertas for the betrayals they would suffer in this war of secrets - a struggle in which friend could be indistinguishable from foe. Drawing on unpublished diaries, letters and Gestapo files, Norman Ohler spins an unforgettable tale of love, heroism and sacrifice.

Liz Robinson's Picks of the Month
The Book Thief

The Book Thief

Author: Markus Zusak Format: Paperback Release Date: 15/09/2016

A 2012 World Book Night selection.   Voted 3rd in the Books of the Decade by Lovereading readers.   Shortlisted for the Newcomer of the Year Award at the Galaxy British Book Awards 2008.   This is the story of a street of ordinary German people living in the horrors of the Nazi regime.  Interestingly it is narrated by Death but the central character is an 11-year old girl who steals a gravedigger’s handbook and gets hooked on reading.  It’s grim yet uplifting, immensely sad yet light in style and touch.  A very interesting view of World War II and an unforgettable book, it’s aimed at both children and adults and should be read by both.   Larry Finlay, Managing Director of the Publisher of The Book Thief said:  “It is a great, great book, one that calls out to your head and your heart whatever your age.  Its success is due almost entirely to word-of-mouth for unlike many bestsellers it has not been made into a film (yet), nor was it picked by a Book Club such as Richard and Judy.”   A "Piece of Passion" from the publisher... ‘The Book Thief is one of those word-of-mouth bestsellers that has made its way into reader’s hearts entirely on its own merits. When this book came to me by way of the Children’s Division, my heart took that legendary leap. I met for the first time the delightful Liesel, Rudy and of course Death, the narrator, all of whom have joined the galaxy of best-loved characters in world literature. Rare is the reader who doesn’t close this book with a tear in their eye.' Jane Lawson, Editorial Director at Transworld    

Books of the Month
Distant Signs A Novel

Distant Signs A Novel

Author: Anne Richter Format: Hardback Release Date: 21/02/2019

A fascinating and truly memorable read concentrating on one family, with the centre of the story resting in East Germany. Two families join, with the marriage of Margret and Hans in the 1960’s. They as children, and both sets of parents lived through the Second World War. The repercussions from that time deeply affect all, with the story finishing in 1992, a few years after the fall of the wall. The opening note, before the novel begins was for me necessary and interesting. It charts the rise of the Nazi party and how all opposition was forcibly removed. It describes how after the war, as part of the Eastern bloc, industry was centralised and agriculture state controlled with workers housing being heavily subsidised. Defection was high and the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, with East and West Germany eventually reunified in 1990. Anne Richter focuses on just a few characters, their thoughts and feelings clamour from the page and show the wider world around them. The story grows, becomes clearer as the focal point moves from one person to the next. This is such an incredibly intimate novel, my understanding altered as I read, as events became clear. I always know that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a novel when I want to research the history and time it is set in. I just want to say that the translation is excellent, with a glossary of terms and literary references also available. ‘Distant Signs’ set my thoughts thrumming, it is so intruiging, compelling and beautifully readable too.

Valkyrie

Valkyrie

Author: Hans Bernd Gisevius Format: Paperback Release Date: 02/12/2008

When on July 20, 1944, a bomb,boldly placed inside Hitler's headquarters by Colonel Count Claus von Stauffenberg, exploded without killing the Fuhrer, the subsequent coup d'etat against the Third Reich collapsed. The conspirators were summarily shot or condemned in show trials and sadistically hanged. One of the few survivors of the conspiracy was Hans Bernd Gisevius, who had used his positions in the Gestapo and the Abwehr (military intelligence) to further the anti-Nazi plot. Valkyrie , an abridgment of Gisevius's classic insider's account To the Bitter End , is an intimate memoir as riveting as it is exceptional.

People Like Us

People Like Us

Author: Louise Fein Format: Paperback Release Date: 04/03/2021

Powerful and poignant, moving and provocative, this beautifully eloquent novel is set before and during the Second World War. People Like Us highlights love, humanity and kindness in the terrifying face of intolerance and hate. Hetty’s father is an SS officer and she passionately believes in Hitler, as anti-semitism grows Hetty finds herself falling in love with Walter. Walter is blonde and blue-eyed, Walter saved her life when she was seven, Walter was best friends with her brother who has joined the Luftwaffe, Walter is a Jew. Hetty narrates her own story, creating a bond, a link to this child who is raised as a Nazi. Louise Fein builds Hetty’s world for us from 1933, I could feel Hetty growing through the years, her voice changing as her thoughts formed, hesitated, altered. Hetty and Walter are relatable, believable, touchable. It is absolutely fascinating to see this life, from this viewpoint, one that you can consider and wonder, ‘what if that had been me’. People Like Us was: “inspired by [the author’s] own family history, and by the alarming parallels she sees between the early thirties and today”. The author’s note at the end sent goosebumps shivering down my arms. As well as being a stunner of a read (you may want tissues handy), People Like Us has huge impact and deservedly sits as a LoveReading Star Book and Debut of the Month, this is one to climb the rooftops and shout about.

Audiobooks of the Month
The Undertaking

The Undertaking

Author: Audrey Magee Format: Paperback Release Date: 04/09/2014

September 2014 Debut of the Month. Shortlisted for the 2014 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. An exceptional and totally engrossing debut novel, viewing WWII from an unfamiliar perspective. We are introduced to an ordinary German family in extraordinary times; they make some perplexing and disturbing decisions, is this in order to prosper or survive? The understated and restrained writing style perfectly suits the complex subject matter, allowing you to become absorbed in the central characters lives. At the beginning, while the war is at a distance and triumph seems inevitable, you are kept quite deliberately detached from Katharina and Peter but as the full horror of war gets ever closer, you discover just how much the human soul can endure. The author takes you on a journey, subtly and quietly introducing you to the Nazi party, where the family start to climb the career ladder of glamour and success. In the battle for Stalingrad, the writing is so simple yet stirring; hunger, loss, pain, cold, fear and ultimately survival all crying out from the page. Towards the end, the final feelings of guilt and the search for absolution (which were initially so conspicuously absent) are written with great insight and consideration. This is such a stimulating and thought provoking novel, you will be left questioning and wondering “what would I have done”? ~ Liz Robinson

eBooks of the Month
Cesare: A Novel of War Torn Berlin

Cesare: A Novel of War Torn Berlin

Author: Jerome Charyn Format: Paperback Release Date: 12/11/2020

Exquisitely weaving fact and fiction this heart-rending yet fascinating historical novel is set during a time of clandestine opposition to the Nazis. Chief of the Abwehr, spymaster Wilhelm Canaris, creates an almost mythical figure when he recruits a young man and calls him Cesare. The story centres around  Canaris, Erik (Cesare) and Lisa, the woman who effectively set Erik on his course. Using the real-life Canaris ensured my mind almost played tricks on me, and at times I struggled to remember that this was fiction, as it felt all too real. Jerome Charyn successfully highlights the contradictory nature of Canaris, this is the man who suggested the yellow Star of David in 1935 to identify Jews, but by 1939 and the outbreak of war began attempts to undermine the Nazi regime. There is a raw, almost brutal quality to the all-consuming storyline. Yet this is intoxicatingly readable and the central relationships encouraged me on to the finish. By the end I was mentally shattered, this most certainly isn’t an easy read, but it is enthralling. This novel encouraged me to research the history of Admiral Canaris, to consider the nature of good and evil and how it combines when contained within human nature. Cesare is haunting, traumatic, and yet I wholeheartedly recommend, and include it as one of my Liz Picks of the Month.

Star Books
Mischling

Mischling

Author: Affinity Konar Format: Paperback Release Date: 05/10/2017

One of Our Books of the Year 2017 |  Not a thriller by any means, unless the quest by a twin sister to discover what happened to her other half in the horror of the concentration camps might qualify it as such, young American author Konar's literary novel aims straight for the heart, a lyrical evocation of both the bonds between siblings, the power of dreams and hope but also of the abominable power of ordinary evil which the Nazis released into the world. The sad tale of identical twins Pearl and Stasha Zagorski and how their personalities (and mutilated bodies) were modified by Doctor Mengele in the horrors of Auschwitz becomes an elegy to beauty and the invisible language of children. Despite the terrible nature of the subject, Konar manages to bring a new sensibility to it and turns this poignant story of an aspect of WW2 which should never be forgotten into a curious and moving fairy tale of sorts, and a salutory reminder. Like a flower on the scorched grounds of hell, this is a story about the human spirit, in the tradition of Primo Levi and The Child Thief, which should be praise enough. ~ Maxim Jakubowski The Lovereading view... A very special, rather beautiful, and truly unforgettable novel, this is a story that has become a part of me, and is now lodged in my soul. 13 year old twins, Pearl and Stasha are star ‘attractions’ at Mengele's Zoo. In the midst of the nightmare of Auschwitz, they witness the very worst and best of humanity in conditions that are almost impossible to comprehend. Each girl tells their own story, each child’s voice, views from a position of innocence and experience, a world of confusion, horror, and love. While this is deeply unsettling, uncomfortable, and my brain often wanted to skirt some of the searing truths, it is also a touching, stunning read. Affinity Konar writes with an exquisite hand, sparks of affection and passion flame through the darkness. ‘Mischling’ darts through thoughts like a dream of a memory, waking them to a harrowing age old horror, yet also displaying the true wonder of humanity, the love our hearts can hold. ~ Liz Robinson February 2017 Debut of the Month.

eBooks of the Month
Last Flight to Stalingrad

Last Flight to Stalingrad

Author: Graham Hurley Format: Hardback Release Date: 07/01/2021

An intelligent, intricately plotted, and fabulously readable foray into The Second World War from a German perspective. Three men, Werner Nehmann from the Ministry of Propaganda, Georg Messner aide to Generaloberst Richthofen, and Wilhelm Schultz from the Military Intelligence Service, find themselves in the thick of the German attempt to capture Stalingrad. This is the fifth book in Graham Hurley’s Spoils of War series, featuring historical and fictional characters from different countries. Here the focus is Germany and we delve into the minds of such historical figures as Goebbels and Richthofen. It is however, the three fictional characters, in particular Werner, who take centre stage. In the main the story remains at a distance from direct fighting, nonetheless I was left in no doubt as to the reality of conflict. The mysteries of propaganda and intelligence wield their shadowy magic. This an intimate story set on a huge scale, the personal stories of the characters really highlights the struggle of the individual during war. Last Flight to Stalingrad is a dynamic, commanding slice of historical fiction that I highly recommend as one of our LoveReading Star Books.

Star Books

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