‘Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger.’
I enjoyed this book, but there were some hurdles for me to enjoy it, mainly the language. I am not well-versed, nor have I ever claimed to be, in any language outside of English. I know the bare minimum of being able to scrape by an understanding, but that has never impeded my ability to read and enjoy a book.
This book, however, had me looking up the phonetic alphabet in order to pronounce names like Tadeusz, which I think I am still pronouncing wrong. Then there are the Nazi terms, the German terms, the Polish slang and the majority of these items weren’t available for “translation” or lookup in my Kindle’s dictionary. Every time I came across a new word, I would look it up and often have to leave my page and go to the internet browser to look it up there and hope there was a translation or at least a pronunciation if I could figure out what the term meant through context clues.
But let’s put this aside because the novel does take place in Paris, Germany, Poland, and Moscow. Unfamiliar terms are bound to be abundant and I am willing to look past this.
I enjoyed the beginning, the middle was what kept my attention, but the end fell apart for me. If it weren’t for the fact that the historical details were accurate, as far as I can tell (I am not a History major by any means), I think I would have given a lesser star review for this book.
The characters are well built and described in enough detail to form an image in my mind. Rita the Jewess that looks more German than Jew, according to Hitler’s image of Jews, and speaks fluent German. I could see her in my mind, along with Urs, Tadeusz, and even Dani. All of the characters were well-formed in my mind, which is the most important aspect of a book for me because the characters tell the story.
One of my biggest issues, however, was the constant point of view shift throughout the book. At one point, it interrupted with the timeline sending the story backwards in order to catch up another characters timeline and I was a little confused as to what was going on and what year it was in the end. At one point, the shift was within a paragraph. We are understanding things from Rita’s perspective and then the next sentence is from her landlady’s perspective and then right back to Rita’s.
I also found it hard to believe that Rita and Dani were able to learn so many languages so quickly. Rita already knows Polish and German. She then picks up on Russian, Yiddish and English. Dani just so happens to speak and understand English, but this is not known until the Americans arrive. I have difficulty believing that they are able to learn this many languages in a way that allows them to effectively communicate so quickly.
The sex scenes were a source of love/hate. I am all for adult scenes in novels meant for adults and these are actually beautifully written. Not overly erotic, not tawdry, but told in a matter-of-fact way that paints an image. But, they often don’t add to the story. Of course, Rita’s affair would involve sex scenes, but then there are other times the sex occurs in the story that doesn’t contribute to what is occurring at the time. Sex for the sake filling a page is where the hate part of the love/hate comes in, but these are well written and didn’t make me cringe to read.
Rita seems to catch a lot of lucky breaks. She happens to speak German like a German not a Jew. She meets Erich, who provides her with the right documentation. She crosses paths with Mikolaj Bilek, who also helps provide her passage at just the right time. Even when she has been “caught,” she is let free because the war is coming to an end and the man in charge, the Sturmscharführer, understands that letting her go will look better for him in the end then sending her and Dani to jail. It just seems a little far-fetched that she survives as much as she does and does so without much effort.
The ending felt thrown together as if the author and editor at the last minute realized there were items not addressed. It was a little sad for me because the bulk of the story was enjoyable and lead up to this ending that just fell flat like a deflated balloon.
Now, it probably seems that there was a lot I found wrong, but as I mentioned the characters are well-developed and the historical aspects accurate. That alone made me enjoy the read. There are also some very memorable quotes that are applicable even today, such as:
Ideas spread like the germs of a disease. Like the deadliest diseases, they die out because they kill their hosts before they can jump to new ones.
I also really liked how Rosenberg effectively and easily explained Darwin’s theories. Darwin is complicated and not always easy to understand. The Nazis used his theories to their benefit, but Rosenberg tells the other side of the story using Darwin’s theories to explain why the Nazis will lose and how the entire war doesn’t have a divine reason, but is just a part of the evolution process. Freddy explains this argument to Rita who grabs hold of it and runs, explaining it to anyone along the way in such a way that it makes sense regardless of who she is explaining it to. It was a highlight for me every time she used the Nazis reasoning against them, of course not directly to their face.
Do I wish there was a better ending? Absolutely. Were there parts of it that were boring or unbelievable? Definitely. Did that take away from my overall enjoyment of the novel? Not one bit.