Wednesday, December 21, 2011
My Brother's Shadow (fiction)
would you lie?
would you cheat?
would you steal?
Germany's people go to sleep hungry in 1918, as young men and old men go to fight in the Great War. Kaiser Wilhelm assures them that the war is almost won - his lies do not fill empty bellies or heal maimed soldiers.
Moritz does all he can to support his mother, sister, and grandmother with his older brother Hans still fighting in the trenches, their father dead in the war. What about his dreams of becoming a writer?
We stand in the ration lines with Hedwig, hear the radical speeches at secret meetings, and see protesters cut down by government police as Moritz struggles to make sense of his world. Schroder, author of Saraswati's Way (review), accurately portrays defeated Germany as the seeds of its future actions toward Jews and the rest of the world are planted in the bitterness of the War's closing days.
Book info: My Brother's Shadow / Monika Schroeder. Frances Foster Books/FSG, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]
Recommendation: Moritz knows he’s lucky to work at the printers – Berlin in 1918 is a place of hunger and desperation. Older brother Hans is now fighting on the Western Front, leaving the 16-year-old as head of their household; Father died at Verdun in the early days of this Great War.
His mother and sister trudge home day after day, reeking of chemicals from the munitions factory, chilled to the bone from standing in ration lines that shortchange them on food. The British have successfully blockaded all German ports for 4 years now.
The Kaiser says that Germany is winning the war, but secret meetings of the social democrats call for public demonstrations to end the fighting. Moritz discovers that his mother not only attends these forbidden meetings, but is a leader in the anti-war movement, now hunted by the police.
Desperate to feed his family, Moritz is pulled into his brother’s old gang of thieves, stealing from rich men’s brimming pantries and bakers’ dwindling supplies of chalk-tainted flour. He meets a young lady in an unfamiliar neighborhood and wonders if there will ever be a peaceful time to discuss books with Rebecca Cohen.
A letter in unfamiliar handwriting arrives – Hans has been wounded badly. Will he survive? Will the Kaiser really agree to an Armistice to end the war? Can mother and Hedwig stay safe in the protest marches? Revolution? Is more fighting the answer to everything?
This compelling story takes readers into Germany’s dark times during the closing months of World War I, when anti-Semitism began to take root and the massive reparations demanded by the Allies would cripple the Germany economy for decades. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy courtesy of the publisher.