Archive for the ‘The Scotsman’ Category
“The tale unfolds to the drumbeat of history . . . Connoisseurs of crystal clear prose will relish this book” –Tom Adair reviews The English German Girl in The Scotsman
It’s a tale of two worlds, of everyday lives upended by crisis. Here is a story that treads the edges of the Holocaust, a touching, and touchy and utterly dangerous business for writers of fiction.
Beginning in 1933, much of the tale is concerned with the Nazi persecution of the Jews in that darkening decade, the 1930s, when Rosa Klein is nine years old and Berlin is still a civilised city where Jews can transact their everyday business in relative tolerance and peace.
Yet, even then, as Rosa ventures to a bakery on an errand for Inga, her mother, clear signs of hatred and propaganda, the shutting down of normal decencies, are apparent. Rosa’s family belong to the trenchant middle class, with a stay-at-home mother, brother Heinrich and live-in maid. Otto, the father, is a well-regarded surgeon who won the Iron Cross in the First World War. He thinks of his family as staunchly German, only secondly Jewish. But when at work he is removed from contact with patients – “in the hospital we are attempting to create an Aryan atmosphere” – he knows the game is up.
His sense of fairness is affronted, his sense of identity undermined. His pride and stubborness — ingrained character flaws more jingoistically German, perhaps, than Jewish — lead to his downfall. When Wilhelm Krützfeld, a longstanding friend, and now the district chief of police, attempts to ensure that the Kleins receive preferential help to secure their safety in the face of the upsurge of anti-Semitic attacks, Otto refuses the offer of help, despite his wife’s pleading. Krützfeld’s wife is Inga’s best friend.
The tale unfolds to the drumbeat of history. Its dramatis personae feature real figures from the time, including Krützfeld and his wife, and, most importantly, the presence of Norbert Wollheim, the driving force behind the Kindertransport which rescued Jewish children from certain death and brought them to England before the war.
Rosa’s removal from her family (she’s then 15) is a pragmatic but also sacrificial act of parental love which brings her safely, and as an emissary, to London. It is the turning point in the novel.
Connoiseurs of crystal clear prose will relish this book as artless art. Read the rest of this entry »