Monday, April 14, 2014

Book Review: Prisoner of Night and Fog (Prisoner of Night and Fog #1) by Anne Blankman

Release Date: April 22, 2014 (Review copy from NetGalley)

Info about author: TwitterGoodreadsWebsite

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Age Group: YA

Pages: 416 (hardcover)

Buy the book: AmazonBook Depository

Rating: 4/5

 

Description (from Goodreads):

In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her "uncle" Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf's, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.
Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler.
And Gretchen follows his every command.
Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can't stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can't help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she's been taught to believe about Jews.
As Gretchen investigates the very people she's always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?
From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she's ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.

MY THOUGHTS (the quotes are either by Hitler or by the author):


Since I first learned about The Second World War in history class, I’ve been interested about it and the people who had a role within it. Hitler, of course, is one of the main figures of that period of history, and back in the day I used to be quite interested about everything that was somehow related to him – much like Gretchen in Prisoner of Night and Fog, I had a desire to find out what made him so evil and what circumstances brought him into power. I’ve read a couple of books about Anne Frank, and seen some films about that historical period (I think The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas will haunt me ‘til the day I die – I did not sleep for two nights after reading that book), and when I saw this in the NetGalley catalogue, I knew that I have to read it.

Gretchen is 17 years old and a member of Hitler’s inner circle. It’s the early 1930s in Munich, and though Hitler hasn’t yet officially risen to power, he is gaining more and more momentum and the conditions for those who do not share his beliefs are getting worse. Hitler’s number 1 target – the Jews. Since Gretchen was child, she has been taught to hate the Jews – Hitler has taught her to see them as “subhumans, determined to destroy her and other pure-blooded Germans” (Blankman). She had been taught to see the Jews as “her eternal enemy” (Blankman), as a group of people she has a “pure blooded”, perfect Aryan specimen should avoid. Then, after a random collection of events she meets Daniel, a journalism for a communist newspaper in the city, who also happens to be a Jew.

Though Gretchen is extremely hesitant to make any connection with Daniel, the moment he tells her that he knows something about Gretchen’s father’s death, she knows that she must listen to him, even though her mind tells that everything he is saying and doing is somehow wrong, somehow bad and that he is somehow using her – she knows how Hitler would react, and the way she has been raised is telling her that she cannot trust a Jew. But as the evidence starts to pile up, and she she spends more time with Daniel, she starts to realize that everything she has been taught, everything she has believed in, and everything Hitler has told her is right might be wrong. She realizes that she is not much different from the Daniel, and with that comes the horrible realization that what Hitler is doing might actually be based on a lie, on something that he has created just to rise to the power. In Mein Kampf Hitler says “The great masses of the people will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one” – Gretchen realizes that she has been living a lie, and the man that she saw as a father figure is a monster, not Daniel, a representative of group of people she had been told to see as monster.

The amount of historical research the author has done for the novel, evident from the selected bibliography at the end of the book, is astounding. Gretchen, her family, Daniel and a couple of other characters are fictional, but otherwise the novel is filled with names we all know, even if we would like not to – Hitler, Hess, Eva Braun- and events that eventually led to Hitler’s rise to leadership. The way Blankman uses the historical details is brilliantly executed and while the book is extremely exciting and action packed, it also manages to be educating. I cannot stress the importance for books like this – as we are moving further and further from those events in the history, we still need to look to the past and show, especially to young readers, what has happened just to make sure things like that don’t happen again.

It is hard to imagine this is Blankman’s debut, because her writing, world building, the use of historical details and the confidence behind her work seem like she is not doing this for the first time. The character development is excellent – especially the difficult relationships between Gretchen and her brother is intriguing one. Also the relationship between Gretchen and Daniel is well developed – though the synopsis quite clearly indicates that something will happen between these characters, it’s no instalove so often seen in young adult novels. Time is given for Gretchen to see who Daniel truly is – and while she needs time to trust him, he also needs time to trust her. The connection between Gretchen and Hitler is interesting and well developed – we see glimpses of Hitler as Gretchen’s loving, caring “uncle” and reading those moments is extremely difficult and uncomfortable, knowing what he did and with what results. The element of psychoanalysis and Hitler’s mental health are extremely well woven to the narrative of the novel and it will be interesting to see how the sequel further discusses this.
"The man she had loved as a father was a fraud. He kissed the backs of her hands and advocated war; he ruffled her hair and preached death; he had played with her on the carpet with toy soldiers, and all along he had been planning the extinction of an entire people." (Blankman)
One of the most nerving things while reading this novel was the fact that YOU KNOW that things will get much, much worse. The novel is set in the early 1930s, when things were still comparatively “easy” for the Jews (yes, easy is not maybe the right word to use here, but when you compare it to what happened when Hitler rose to power, I think you know what I mean). Throughout the novel there’s an undercurrent of tension rising, and I can’t wait to see how that will be explored in the upcoming sequel.
Throughout, Prisoner of Night and Fog is intriguing, entertaining, fast-paced and extremely exciting historical novel. It is an instant pick for history fans, but I hope that it also catches the interest of readers who usually are not big on historical fiction. I found the ending weird at first (that’s why I give it four stars instead of five), but then realized that there’s a sequel coming up, so that explained it. Make sure you have time at hand when you start to read this one, because at least I wasn’t able to put it down.

Are you a fan of historical novels? Are there some historical YA titles you could recommend for me?


4 comments:

  1. What a wonderful review! I'm intrigued. I actually got this book on Edelweiss but decided to leave it for later because I wasn't ready to read something so dark at the time.

    I think I'm going to check it out now, that it's going to have a sequel.

    I can't picture Hitler as a loving uncle. So creepy.

    Have you read Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly? I loved that book. Historical fiction is not for everyone and I usually avoid reading it but Revolution is a work of art.

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    1. This definitely deals with a very dark subject matter, but I personally did not find it "too dark". Like it does not go into the most horrific details (mostly because it's YA), but still deals with a very difficult topic with honor and seemingly good historical knowledge. I simply loved how it blended fact and fiction together - brilliantly done! Can't wait to see how the author concludes the story in the second part - I kind of almost wished that they would have published this only in one part, but I think that would have made for a quite sizable YA novel.

      I haven't but I looked for it from Goodreads and I really want to read it now. I used to read a lot more historical fiction than I do now, and I kind of want to get back to it, so maybe Revolution could be that book for me. It's only like £1.97 on Amazon as a used copy, so I'm kind of tempted....

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    2. I got a new UK hardcover on Fishpond over a year ago for $3. It's so worth it! I liked how the story blends the time of the French Revolution and present day Paris. I did cry but I loved every second of it. I even persuaded my friend to order an used copy from Awesome Books last month. :)

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    3. I just ordered it from Awesome Books today - since I'm in UK, I'm hoping that I'll get it in the mail already on Saturday! :) Thanks for the recommendation - it does sound quite perfect!

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