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.
Author: Anne Blankman
Length: 416 pages
Source: Review copy from NetGalley
Series: Yes #1 in Prisoner of Night and Fog
I was really anxious about starting Prisoner of Night and Fog because I’m still working my way out of a reading slump caused, in part, by reading The Book Thief at a time when I wasn’t feeling it. While I’ve loved a few historical fiction novels (most notably Conn Iggulden’s Conqueror series) I’m not a huge fan of the genre, and so I was worried Prisoner of Night and Fog would send me spiralling back down into my slump. To be honest though, I think it’s helped boost me back out! Prisoner of Night and Fog hooked me from the very first page, and I couldn’t put it down – something that hasn’t happened with a book in weeks!
Gretchen Muller lives in 1930s Munich, the daughter of a martyr who died to save her Uncle Dolf – Adolf Hitler. She worships her Uncle Dolf, the charismatic man with the voice like chocolate, the man who always looks out for her and the one adult she knows she can trust. When a Jewish reporter seeks her out, telling her that her father was in fact murdered, Gretchen is still shaken up from watching a brutal beating of a Jew, and just about unsure enough to listen to what he has to say. From that moment on, Gretchen begins to see things in a different light and to wonder about the views of a man she has always loved and followed.
Now first of all, I have to say I’m not a huge history buff, and I don’t speak a word of German, so in terms of technical accuracy, I couldn’t comment. What I can say is that I loved the characters and the plot, and the writing took a story that could have been dark and depressing to twisted but gripping.
There are a lot of different threads to this book, but it never felt cluttered. Obviously, the story follows Adolf Hitler, and Gretchen’s slow doubt of his manifesto. As well as that, there’s a budding romance, the mystery surrounding the death of Gretchen’s father and the difficult relationships Gretchen faces at home. The threads flowed seamlessly throughout the book, and there was no one thread that dominated – I was curious about them all! My only complaint about Prisoner of Night and Fog was that I felt the resolution of Gretchen’s father’s death was a bit anti-climactic.
There’s quite a cast of characters, and they aren’t all likeable but they are all fascinating. Gretchen Muller, our protagonist, is a feisty young girl who has been through her father’s death and a difficult home life but is fundamentally a survivor. Daniel Cohen is the dedicated young Jewish journalist, determined to root out the truth. As well as those two, we also have Gretchen’s mother, her cruel elder brother, her best friend Eva and Hitler’s niece Geli. The characters are a mixture of real historical figures and fictional, but the two blend together seamlessly.
Blankman’s portrayal of Hitler is brilliantly done. Although you know the reality, the beginning of the book manages to portray him as Uncle Dolf, the charming, devoted family friend Gretchen loves. As Gretchen slowly begins to question him, more and more of his other side is revealed, and the way his portrayal changes is fascinating. Although in this case we’re reading about a character who thinks of moving away from Hitler, the slow gradual way this is done makes it easy to imagine in reverse.
Prisoner of Night and Fog is not exactly a beach read – although the writing makes it very easy to caught up, the story is still fundamentally dark and creepy. A sense of fear, mystery, and urgency permeate the writing, and had me flicking through quickly, desperate to reach the end. Although I raced through it on first read, I can imagine re-reading it more slowly, really savouring the story and looking more carefully for key moments.
Buy it? This is one worth buying for me.
In a nutshell: A fantastically atmospheric, desperately gripping debut.