Author: Jennifer Chiaverini
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Indiebound |Goodreads
Summary: Wonderful, moving, detailed story of female friendship and epic bravery.
This is the story of four women who resisted the Nazi regime, some from the very beginning to the bitter end. Martha Dodd is the most well known of the four, as the American ambassador’s daughter featured in In the Garden of the Beasts. She plays the most minor role here. Two other women, German Greta and American Mildred, were real members of the German resistance. Jewish German Sara is a fictional character based on many real women. Although I typically prefer historical fiction to hew closely to the facts, I thought Sara’s perspective was a great addition to the story. I also enjoyed that her creation meant that all of our protagonists interacted with one another. Together, the stories of all four women provided a glimpse of the human goodness that can flourish even in the worst of circumstances.
This is the third book I’ve read by Jennifer Chiaverni. I have to admit that I hated the first one, Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival. On the other hand, I really liked Enchantress of Numbers. This book was better than either. In retrospect, what all three books have in common is detailed storytelling. It’s clear the author has done meticulous research. I loved that when characters traveled in this book, we knew which direction they were going. When they moved to a new neighborhood, we learned if it was fancy or rundown and often something about local businesses. There were also just enough German words sprinkled in to give me a sense of place. Together, these little details brought the story vividly to life. Even at almost 600 pages, even feeling a little pressure to finish this to post a review, I never felt impatient for this book to be over. I couldn’t put it down, but I didn’t want it to end.
Comparing this to the previous books by this author, I think Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival simply didn’t have an exciting enough story to sustain me through all the details. I also did not like the main character. In the author’s other two books, her detailed writing style was paired with protagonists I admired and many exciting events. Combined with those two elements, I’ve loved it. This book actually reminded me very much of My Dear Hamilton (one of my favorite books last year and some of my favorite historical fiction ever).
Initially, I wasn’t sure this book felt personal enough. It’s all written in third-person limited and while the four women offered different perspectives, the narrator’s tone didn’t change with the perspective. All emotions were described from the outside. There were a few tragedies I felt were rushed past. However, by the end, as the cruelties of Nazi Germany escalated, I began to appreciate the author’s choice here. The events alone were devastating. I think an attempt to make them more dramatic could have ended up feeling cheap or overdone. Instead, the author let the events speak for themselves. That was enough to bring me to tears on at least one occasion.
There are a few other things I loved about this book. The female friendships, as well as the romantic and family relationships, were inspiring. Each chapter included a helpful header with the time frame. Each chapter started immediately after the previous one and they flowed easily, even when the perspective changed. I was equally excited to hear about all the characters. There was never a dull moment, which must have been one of the most awful things at the time, but it did make for good reading. I’d particularly recommend it to the other bloggers I know who loved My Dear Hamilton and to any other fans of detailed historical fiction about incredible women.
For other opinions, check out the other review on the TLC Book Tour.