Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Review: Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman
Review: Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman
Release date: April 22nd, 2014
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (Harper)
Series: Yes, #1 in the Prisoner of Night and Fog series
Source: e-ARC via Edelweiss
Length: 416 pages
Rating: Buy this immediately. A powerful, tense, fascinating historical with a good helping of swoons and amazing detail.
In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her "uncle" Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf's, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.
Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler.
And Gretchen follows his every command.
Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can't stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can't help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she's been taught to believe about Jews.
As Gretchen investigates the very people she's always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?
From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she's ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.
I love that feeling when you read a book that has fully sucked you in. Where you find yourself sitting up on the couch or your bed, when you react audibly to what's happening in the text. Prisoner of Night and Fog was one of those reads for me. I gasped, I squealed, I sighed, and in one particularly horrible, amazing, nauseating scene, I gagged. Actually audibly gagged.
I love books that make me do this. Three things serve to make Prisoner of Night and Fog so intensely and utterly compelling: Gretchen, our heroine, how brilliant executed the setting is, and Adolf Hitler himself.
Gretchen Muller lives a difficult, tense life. Her family situation is financially and socially precarious, and they depend on Hitler for everything. She, her widowed mother, and her elder brother Reinhard eke out a living in a boardinghouse, but "Uncle Dolf" is the one who treats Gretchen to dinners and outings and, most importantly, is the only one who shows her any affection. Her brother Reinhard is cruel (and by cruel I mean THE FREAKING WORST), and she lives in constant fear of him. Then there's the fact that her Uncle's political party seems to be growing more and more powerful, and Hitler's words seem to become darker and darker... And then there's the handsome Jewish reporter Gretchen meets, who threatens to change everything.
Oh, and then there's the fact that her father, long hailed as a Nazi martyr, who took a bullet to save Hitler, might actually have been murdered.
THE STAKES. Holy crap. It's like you can't breathe at any point in this 400 page novel. Gretchen's adversaries are cruel and real and ever present. So not only does she have to deal with, you know, Nazies, but she also must face some intense battles inside herself. It's not easy to come to terms with the fact that everything you have ever been taught is not only wrong, but evil, but Gretchen is such a strong character. Her emotional journey is painful and believable , and uuuurgh my feeels. She is truly a prisoner, forced to smile and pet Hitler's ego, forced to toe the party line, forced to bend her will for Hitler and for her brother, forced to give up her studies and her dreams.
And Gretchen and Daniel. Daniel Daniel Daniel. Maybe they moved to love a leeetle fast, but oh my God. DANIEL. Strong, fierce, vulnerable Daniel is a Jewish reporter determined to find the truth and determined to fight. The way he and Gretchen--so completely different at first--slowly come to see the truth of each other is... urrrrrrgh my feeels.
Now, the setting. MY GOD, is the research in this evident. Blankman painted such a rich and vivid picture of 1931 Munich and the dire Depression post WWI Germany found itself in after the overly harsh Treaty of Versailles, and how a country full of poor, desperate people clung to the one man who seemed to promise a return to glory. You could feel just how much of a political powderkeg Munich was, with it's oil and water mix of socialists and communists and, oh, yeah, Nazis. You get to see an angle on the Nazis and their slow, creeping, creepy rise to power that you very rarely see.
I love this period. Love, love, love. Inter-war Europe, particularly Germany and England, just fascinates me. I am a huge History nerd, so I'm predisposed to love all these details (and I freaked out on page, like, two the moment we meet Gretchen's friend Eva and the moment we meet Geli because OMG I KNOW WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUUUUU). If you're not a history nerd... well, hmm. Never mind. You should be. Read this book and become one, okay?
I've heard people label this is a World War II book, but IT IS NOT. It is set in 1931 (in Europe, WWII began in 1939, for peeps who don't know). It's not about war, but rather the awful foundations of what was to come. There's a horrible inevitability to all the terrible things that happen in Prisoner of Night and Fog, like he's laying the groundwork for the war and the Holocaust, and you just want to jump into the book and shout at everyone to RUN FOR THEIR LIIIVES. But of course they don't know, and watching Gretchen come to this realization on her own is pretty powerful stuff.
(Trigger warning: there is some animal death, and it is heinous. My soul hurt.)
And then there's the man himself: Hitler. I felt nauseated every time he was on the page, but you're meant to. He's such an illusive figure to write about, because no one quite knows all about him or has ever been able to decisively pin him down, and Blankman totally gets to that. Seeing this up close, personal portrait drawn of him is just chill-inducing. Gretchen sees parts of Hitler not many got to see, and oh my God, do you not want to see them. But I couldn't get enough. It's hard to make book Hitler live up in any way to... you know, Hitler, but Blankman's version of Hitler is just amazing. My God. I need a shower.
Please read this book. Please please please. It's so compelling and intense and chock full of history. I could not stop reading it. In fact, I so much did not want it to be over that I read the Afterword, in which the author gives a lot of really cool historical context, and screamed when I saw that THERE IS GOING TO BE A SEQUEL. SET IN 1933, right after Hitler becomes chancellor of Germany. OMGGG. I don't know if the sequel will have Gretchen in it or not, but you better believe I'll be reading that. ETA: Apparently it DOES star Gretchen and Daniel again! Best news ever.