Saturday, August 18, 2012

Moral Choices and Betrayal

It's Berlin in 1940. Sigrid Schroeder lives with her mother-in-law and works as a stenographer while her husband is with the army on the Russian front. Sigrid loves the movie theater where she can escape into her own world for awhile, but it is here also that the world comes to engage her. She meets a young Jewish man with whom she falls in love. She also meets a young woman who is helping Jews escape from Germany. Without meaning to get caught up in either the affair or the ring helping Jews, Sigrid does both and it changes her life completely.

This is not an easy book to read. For me, the best part was the description. Gillham paints a stark and very realistic picture of Germany during the second world war. It made me feel as though I could peer into the past and see what ordinary people were thinking and doing.

The reason I didn't particularly enjoy the book was the main character. Sigrid was not likeable. She starts very self-centered. She takes risks, but instead of doing it out of a moral commitment you feel that she'd doing it for a bit of excitement. She doesn't seem to have any compunction about taking a lover and even considers denouncing his family to have him all to herself.

While the description of Berlin is excellent with all the brutality and sexuality of a city in the throes of war, the dialog leaves a great deal to be desired. Sigrid's speech is stiff and she often repeats back to the person she is conversing with. Altogether, I found the characterization in this novel poor. However, it's worth reading for the description of a city at war, and the moral choices and betrayals made by the people in such a dire situation.  

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.