I got a complimentary copy of this one from the author in exchange for an honest review – thank you very much! That fact didn’t influence my opinion in any way.
Imagine that somebody assassinated Hitler as early as 1934, during the infamous Night of the Long Knives – a coup designated by Hilter’s supporters for the arrest and elimination of Ernst Röhm and other key members of his brownshirt Stormtroopers. This novel tries to tell such an alternate history scenario.
The main heroine, Lisel Ganz, a central figure in the chain of events leading to the early demise of Hitler, is just your ordinary country beauty, trying to make a living in Berlin. She is a pragmatist – if a young man wants to buy her breakfast and enjoy her company she never says ‘no’ – otherwise she would never manage to be independent.
One day, however, Lisel happens to be in the wrong place (before a Jewish synagogue) at the wrong time (during one of many anti-Jewish bashing organized by German Stormtroopers). Despite her platinum blond hair she is taken for a Jewess, brutalized and gang-raped (because those brave, brave boys loved nothing more than a weaker, unarmed victim). Nothing seems to be the same afterwards and few people seem to realize that much – certainly not Corporal Horst Dörner, serving in the elite Hilter’s bodyguard unit. Horst is a man who adores Lisel insanely and who wants to marry her; however he is not aware that his fiancée has changed dramatically and started following a very dangerous path, leading her straight towards a secret assassination plot.
It was a relatively short novel full of great ideas but, unfortunately, not executed very well. Perhaps it’s just me and my insanely high expectations but I suppose the book could have been a bit longer and could have done with more editing/proofreading. The narration I found uneven – next to really brilliant fragments, full of unexpected beauty, were those which read as just a rough sketch.
I really appreciated the courage of the author – few books feature a nasty gang rape right at the very beginning and then let the heroine face the consequences. I also liked the fact that the characters were rather complex, evading more obvious clichés. For example Horst is hardly your average sadistic/deluded Nazi soldier; it seems he really cares about Lisel – he visits her in the hospital and then continues dating her even after that horrible rape. Taking refuge in the home of a rich, half-Jewish artist, Albert Entrater, Lisel meets Konrad, a Catholic priest involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler; he is also hardly your average meek, platitudes-spouting priest.
Amid great betrayal, loss, and danger, Lisel must act while there is still time and she seems to be maturing almost overnight – the fact that, all of a sudden, she can predict future and see the past by just touching people and things helps a lot. Still, I would be far more happy if the author tried to explain who and/or what has activated Lisel’s brain in such an unusual way (because it was most certainly not an aftereffect of a brutal rape). I also wished Albert was rather a doer than a thinker (but perhaps I am too demanding – he was an artist, after all).
An interesting premise, a bunch of original characters and an alternate history set in Berlin before WWII with a far more promising ending than I expected. If only the execution was flawless and the book – a bit longer I would love it insanely.