- Book: People Like Us
- Location: Leipzig
- Author: Louise Fein
The book has been published in thirteen territories and has also been shortlisted for two major literary prizes – the RSL Christopher Bland prize, 2021 and the RNA Historical Novel of the Year Award, 2021.
The novel is inspired by the story of the author’s father. Her family members were originally Ashkenzi Jews and he worked as a furrier and animal skin trader. However, rather than seeing the situation from the Jewish perspective, the author decided that it would be interesting to explore the dynamics in Germany from the German perspective and thus, at the heart of the book, she features teenager Hertha – Hetty – Heinrich, who is being raised in a household where the Nazi messages and traditions are strong and all pervasive. Her father is a bigwig in the Nazi party.
Before everything became polarised in 1930s Germany, early friendship groups mixed at will. Her brother, Karl, had friends amongst whom was blonde-haired and blue-eyed Walter, a Jewish boy, but as the antipathy towards Jews ratcheted up, he was sidelined and spurned. Hetty was extremely fond of Walter and walked a tightrope between following the given precepts and choosing her innate sense of humanity.
As she starts to rationalise her feelings about the ubiquitous propaganda, she begins to choose her own way forward, fraught with danger but morally the right path. And where love leads…..
The author details everyday life and relationships with compassion and a clarity of vision that really brings the era to life.
I found this to be an immersive read, well written and a well told story of conflicted loyalties and friendships. It is striking how the hammering home of a constant narrative can sway virtually a whole populace, and the author draws parallels with what is happening in parts of the world today. The onslaught day in and day out of the repeated narrative drones into the human consciousness, dulls critical thinking, and then people respond the way that the leaders demand of them. It’s truly depressing and history really has something to teach subsequent generations, if only they would listen.
The level of German used throughout to my mind was great, there was a good balance employed to create atmosphere. One of the small issues in this novel is some incorrect use of the language. A reader needs to be able to trust that the use of a foreign language is correct. It is clear that someone has cast a professional eye over the longer phrases in this novel but somehow Seig instead of Sieg has slipped through the net; and the multiple use of ‘Gymnasium’ (which in German is High School, not a gymnasium) in an English text is unhelpful to an English audience. And nouns always have capitals in German.
That notwithstanding, this is truly a top and perceptive read.