My thanks go out to Sarah, representing publisher Bookouture, for saving me a place on this lovely ‘Books On Tour’ schedule.
I also need to thank the great NetGalley team, for always making life so easy when downloading review copies.
THE GERMAN WIFE
Germany, 1939: Annaliese is a doctor’s wife, living in an elegant grey stone house with ivy creeping over the balcony. But when her husband is ordered to work at the Dachau labour camp, her ordinary life is turned upside down by the horrors of war. And Annaliese finds herself in grave danger when she dares to fight for love and freedom…
America, 1989: Turning the pages of the newspaper, Annaliese gasps when she recognizes the face of a man she thought she’d never see again. It makes her heart skip a beat as a rush of wartime memories come back to her. As she reads on, she realizes the past is catching up with her. She must confront a decades-old secret – or risk losing everything…
Germany, 1942: Annaliese’s marriage is beginning to crumble. Her husband, Hans, has grown cold and secretive since starting his new job as a doctor at Dachau. When a tall, handsome Russian prisoner named Alexander is sent from the camp to work in their garden, lonely Annaliese finds herself drawn to him as they tend to the plants together. In snatched moments and broken whispers, Alexander tells her the truth about the shocking conditions at the camp. Horrified, Annaliese vows to do everything she can to save him.
But as they grow closer, their feelings for each other put them both in terrible danger. And when Annaliese falls pregnant she has to make an impossible decision between protecting herself and saving the love of her life…
She started her working life at the BBC and was the first newsreader on Breakfast Television when it launched. She presented a variety of television programmes and worked as a voice over artist.
As a mother of young children Debbie took on producer roles, developing a career in corporate and charity event production. But career number three was lurking in the shadows. She had written stories since childhood, and her first novel – a historical novel about the creation of the Leaning Tower of Pisa – was finally published in 2015.
She has now written six novels, five of which are set in Italy – a country she loves and which she visits each year.
Keep up with all Debbie’s news at her website
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“I was inspired to write this book by a photograph I saw in the Munich Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism. I was in Munich to research my previous novel, The Secret Letter, and my eyes fell upon a photograph of a beautiful young man – a Russian ‘slave’ – who had been executed for having an affair with his German employer. Strung up on a gibbet, his death was witnessed by many other slaves, forced to watch this atrocity, presumably as a warning to other rule-breakers. These rules stated that no slave – either male or female – should have any social interaction with their employer.
As I read about the slave system in wartime Germany, I was both surprised and appalled. I hadn’t realised before how widespread slavery actually was. Literally millions of people were forced into slave labour for the German Reich.
That struck me then as a compelling starting point for a future novel…”
There is so much more to this “Historical Note”, about the fact / fiction mix of this intriguing storyline, which can be found at the end of the book. It is well worth taking the few minutes to check it out. Or if, like myself, I wanted to follow the context of the facts during my reading of the story, I flipped the pages and read the article first.
GREENWICH, CONNECTICUT, USA, OCTOBER 1984
Anna Vogel checked her reflection in the bedroom mirror. At sixty-six she was still considered attractive, with chin-length, thick blond hair, greying a little now. She had always been tall and slender – five feet eight in stockinged feet – and was almost the same weight she had been at seventeen. Smoothing down the skirt of her shirt dress, she leant over the bed to pick up the slacks and sweater she had just discarded, straightening out the eau de nil bedspread. It was a little threadbare in places; she really ought to throw it out, she thought, but something made her hang onto it – a link with the past perhaps.
The bedspread was the first thing she had bought after she and Hans were married. The colour, she told him – as she laid the bedspread out on their large pine bed in the big house in Munich – reminded her of the hotel room in Paris where they had spent their honeymoon.
Hans had smiled slightly, adjusting the collar of his SS uniform, amused by her sentimentality. ‘Whatever makes you happy, my dear.’
THE PRE–WAR YEARS 1932–1935
“The mission of German women is to be beautiful and to bring children into the world…
In exchange, the male takes care of gathering food, stands guard and wards off the enemy.”
Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, 1929
“They had buried her mother eight years before in the same graveyard, and had never spoken of it again. It had been his way of coping, she had supposed – to bury his feelings along with the body, and just get on with it. Now, with her father gone, she wondered if his way of grieving had been the right way. Perhaps it was better to let the pain come to the surface and deal with it, head on”
“Medical research was always a balancing act between potentially harming a few in order to protect the many”
“Hurrying into the medical block, he felt a combination of horror and shame. This was not what he had signed up for. He had thought he would be allowed to do some good for mankind. But in fact he was just part of a brutal killing machine”
‘I’m not prejudiced,’ replied Elisabetta. ‘I discriminate… there’s a difference, you know’
“Exhausted suddenly, she sat down heavily at her dressing table and studied her face in the mirror. She felt angry, but also impotent, trapped in a marriage with a man she no longer recognised. A man who had concealed from her the hideous work he was involved in – a man who had become a monster”
‘We live in extraordinary times,’ he murmured into her hair, ‘where morality, duty and human decency are in short supply. I am surrounded at work by immense cruelty and it’s because of what I see each day that I feel this is the only sensible course of action. I love you more than life itself, and it’s because I love you that I can bear this. Just try… not to love him too much – and come back to me when it’s done.’
“A secret love. An impossible choice”
This definitely has to be one of my top reads of 2021!
I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough and was amazed to realise that I had read the book from beginning to end in less than 24 hours, using up more than its fair share of my desktop tissue box along the way!
When I read about the true events and people on which this book was based, it was immediately apparent what a superb job author Debbie Rix had done with her in depth research and beautiful blending of fact with fiction, to produce this amazing storyline, which essentially epitomises the perfect eternal triangle of emotional involvement, spanning decades and lifetimes. However, running in parallel with this sad and poignant love story, there is historical and social commentary of the terrible crimes some people were forced to commit in the name of war, a cultural representation of certain groups for whom human life had no meaning and who were almost happy to inflict pain and suffering on innocent minority groups, and a societal dilemma of exactly how far and to what lengths a person was willing to go, to protect their own reputation, status and standing. Not everyone was a guilty and willing participant in the many acts of barbarism inflicted on detainees of the German Reich and despite having studied the era, albeit many years ago now, I had no idea of the modern day slavery implications, for those prisoners ‘lucky’ enough to be spared execution or a much slower, more torturous death.
Although newlyweds, Hans and Annaliese talk ‘at’ one another, there is no real sense of either of them truly talking ‘to’ one other, so they spend much of their married life at cross purposes, neither realising just how unhappy the other is, until it is too late, their love has turned sour and vitriolic, and a sense of detached duty, is all that remains between them. Whilst Hans may come to feel a growing abhorrence and shame about the wartime atrocities, tortures and murders he witnesses inside the walls of Dachau, as one of Himmler’s favoured SS Officers; this is completely at odds with the commitment he has made to his medical research programme, which is where he wants to make a name for himself, and is why he manages to turn a blind eye to the effects his experiments are having on his human test subjects.
Annaliese despises the Reich and all it stands for and at first has no idea that her distant husband has become so firmly entrenched in its moral turpitude and barbaric practices. When she has her rose-tinted glasses removed and the light of reality shines in on her, her repugnance and shame know no bounds, especially when it is made clear to the couple that certain marital outcomes are expected of them, to promote the ongoing purity of the new Aryan race and boost its number. Once Anna is abandoned not once, or twice, but three times and is left to manage by her own resourcefulness, she summons an inner strength she never knew she possessed, in order to protect that which is most dear to her and to make a life and future of which they can be proud.
Alexander Kosomov is a Russian POW, saved by Hans as a slave gardener for Annaliese, although Alexander’s contempt for the couple is barely concealed and he maintains his pride with consummate dignity. When Hans is away working however, the inevitable happens and Annaliese and Alexander become attracted to one another, although it becomes clear that any notion of true love is all one sided and not returned, as for Alexander, survival is the only name of the game and some actions are just too risky to contemplate, especially when he feels that he has been manipulated and used by the the Vogels to further their own ends, despite Anna’s protestations that her feelings for him are genuine.
Those are the bare bones of a well structured, disturbing, multi-layered saga, which seamlessly spans many decades, from a Germany where war is still just a glimmer on the horizon, through to modern day America, where life is good and conditions perfect for the emotional reckoning of one man’s lifetime and a long overdue reconciliation. Told in well signposted chapters, the writing is fluent, evocative, emotionally challenging in its bold, intense and forthright style; but at the same time completely immersive, compelling, wonderfully nuanced and textured. The passionate and intuitive, richly crafted dialogue; together with some gripping, perceptive and highly emotive narrative, all sets a really visual sense of time and place, where pain, suffering, sorrow and regret are never far from the surface.
Debbie created an amazing cast of well drawn and developed characters who, love them or hate them, were given loud and clear voices with which to make this storyline very their own. They were all definitely a multi-faceted, complex jigsaw of human emotions, with personal agendas and motives, many of which were not always compelling or easy to identify with. They were often selfish, volatile, raw and passionate, which could make them unreliable yet strangely vulnerable, mentally scarred and broken and always somehow searching for that just-out-of-reach, illusive sense of truly belonging. As they were seldom true to themselves, with little if any synergy between them, finding them in any way genuine or believable, was always going to be a challenge. All that having been said however, I found them all quite addictive in their own way and the character I could most relate to is poor Sasha, who is destined to never really remember or get to know the man he called ‘father’, and who only gets the opportunity to meet and engage with his birth father when the man is elderly and is the only person left who can answer any of his questions with honesty.
What typically makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every book, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by authors who can fire my imagination, stimulate my senses and stir my emotions.
Whilst still at heart, a love story, this book had the power to evoke so many feelings, that I’m sure I won’t have felt the same way about it as the last reader, nor the next. It really is a journey you need to make for yourself and see where it leads you!
A complimentary download of this book for review purposes, was made available by Bookouture and supplied by NetGalley
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars!