Wow. I just finished this book and I’m still breathless…
Caroline is a young debutante who has given up her acting career to volunteer to help French families who have just come to resettle in NYC in the late 1930’s. Herta is an ambitious physician, one of the few women doctors, in fact, in Germany in 1939. And Kasia is a teenager who, in 1939 decides she will join her crush, Pietrik, and deliver packages for the Polish underground, after the invasion of the Germans. As you might expect, these very different women’s lives eventually intersect as the tragedies of the second World War drive them together.
What is most staggering is that this story is based on the lives of real people and real events. Both Caroline and Herta were real women, individuals who exemplified the best and the worst that women could be. And Ravensbruck, the Nazi concentration camp for women, was frighteningly real as well. What fills in the connections between the two women is historical fiction based on years of research by the author to create a story that also illustrates the best and the worst that people can be.
The writing is excellent. The way the plot is drawn, circling among the 3 major characters, is great not only in terms of fortifying the opposing narratives, but also in building up and then releasing tension as well. When parts become almost too painful to read, the story switches back to a lighter mood to give the reader a much deserved break. (What I always feel guilty about is that what I find too hard to read about – millions of people – literally, millions! – actually lived.)
What was most horrifying – and I hate to bring this up, but I feel compelled – is that sentences in this book that described Hitler were frighteningly identical to those describing our new president of the United Staes. The ego, the destruction of anyone who disagreed with him, and the paranoia with which he reigned – it was all too familiar. That is terrifying. But all the more reason to read books like this one: ones that remind us how far people can really go. It reminds us not to be complacent, because people in Germany thought that it could never happen there either.
This is a MUST READ, by any measure!