“A secret love. An impossible choice”
- Book: The German Wife
- Location: Dachau, Munich, United States (USA)
- Author: Debbie Rix
This definitely has to be one of my top reads of 2021!
I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough and was amazed to realise that I had read the book from beginning to end in less than 24 hours, using up more than its fair share of my desktop tissue box along the way!
When I read about the true events and people on which this book was based, it was immediately apparent what a superb job author Debbie Rix had done with her in depth research and beautiful blending of fact with fiction, to produce this amazing storyline, which essentially epitomises the perfect eternal triangle of emotional involvement, spanning decades and lifetimes. However, running in parallel with this sad and poignant love story, there is historical and social commentary of the terrible crimes some people were forced to commit in the name of war, a cultural representation of certain groups for whom human life had no meaning and who were almost happy to inflict pain and suffering on innocent minority groups, and a societal dilemma of exactly how far and to what lengths a person was willing to go, to protect their own reputation, status and standing. Not everyone was a guilty and willing participant in the many acts of barbarism inflicted on detainees of the German Reich and despite having studied the era, albeit many years ago now, I had no idea of the modern day slavery implications, for those prisoners ‘lucky’ enough to be spared execution or a much slower, more torturous death.
Although newlyweds, Hans and Annaliese talk ‘at’ one another, there is no real sense of either of them truly talking ‘to’ one other, so they spend much of their married life at cross purposes, neither realising just how unhappy the other is, until it is too late, their love has turned sour and vitriolic, and a sense of detached duty, is all that remains between them. Whilst Hans may come to feel a growing abhorrence and shame about the wartime atrocities, tortures and murders he witnesses inside the walls of Dachau, as one of Himmler’s favoured SS Officers; this is completely at odds with the commitment he has made to his medical research programme, which is where he wants to make a name for himself, and is why he manages to turn a blind eye to the effects his experiments are having on his human test subjects.
Annaliese despises the Reich and all it stands for and at first has no idea that her distant husband has become so firmly entrenched in its moral turpitude and barbaric practices. When she has her rose-tinted glasses removed and the light of reality shines in on her, her repugnance and shame know no bounds, especially when it is made clear to the couple that certain marital outcomes are expected of them, to promote the ongoing purity of the new Aryan race and boost its number. Once Anna is abandoned not once, or twice, but three times and is left to manage by her own resourcefulness, she summons an inner strength she never knew she possessed, in order to protect that which is most dear to her and to make a life and future of which they can be proud.
Alexander Kosomov is a Russian POW, saved by Hans as a slave gardener for Annaliese, although Alexander’s contempt for the couple is barely concealed and he maintains his pride with consummate dignity. When Hans is away working however, the inevitable happens and Annaliese and Alexander become attracted to one another, although it becomes clear that any notion of true love is all one sided and not returned, as for Alexander, survival is the only name of the game and some actions are just too risky to contemplate, especially when he feels that he has been manipulated and used by the the Vogels to further their own ends, despite Anna’s protestations that her feelings for him are genuine.
Those are the bare bones of a well structured, disturbing, multi-layered saga, which seamlessly spans many decades, from a Germany where war is still just a glimmer on the horizon, through to modern day America, where life is good and conditions perfect for the emotional reckoning of one man’s lifetime and a long overdue reconciliation. Told in well signposted chapters, the writing is fluent, evocative, emotionally challenging in its bold, intense and forthright style; but at the same time completely immersive, compelling, wonderfully nuanced and textured. The passionate and intuitive, richly crafted dialogue; together with some gripping, perceptive and highly emotive narrative, all sets a really visual sense of time and place, where pain, suffering, sorrow and regret are never far from the surface.
Debbie created an amazing cast of well drawn and developed characters who, love them or hate them, were given loud and clear voices with which to make this storyline very their own. They were all definitely a multi-faceted, complex jigsaw of human emotions, with personal agendas and motives, many of which were not always compelling or easy to identify with. They were often selfish, volatile, raw and passionate, which could make them unreliable yet strangely vulnerable, mentally scarred and broken and always somehow searching for that just-out-of-reach, illusive sense of truly belonging. As they were seldom true to themselves, with little if any synergy between them, finding them in any way genuine or believable, was always going to be a challenge. All that having been said however, I found them all quite addictive in their own way and the character I could most relate to is poor Sasha, who is destined to never really remember or get to know the man he called ‘father’, and who only gets the opportunity to meet and engage with his birth father when the man is elderly and is the only person left who can answer any of his questions with honesty.
What typically makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every book, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by authors who can fire my imagination, stimulate my senses and stir my emotions.
Whilst still at heart, a love story, this book had the power to evoke so many feelings, that I’m sure I won’t have felt the same way about it as the last reader, nor the next. It really is a journey you need to make for yourself and see where it leads you!