Title: Prisoner of Night and Fog
Author: Anne Blankman
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
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.
I tend to shy away from historical books for unknown reasons, and that goes double for historical books that deal with wartime events since they tend to be sadder and harder to read. Even though this book doesn’t take place during WWII, it’s about Germany in the decade or so leading up to that time, when Hitler is growing in power, so it’s just as difficult to read. That difficulty made me not enjoy it as much as I would a fluffier read, but it was a great book, and a debut, nonetheless.
I read the beginning of this book (the first part of four or five) about a month earlier before I had to return it and wait for my hold to come in again. As such, I’m a little shakier on the beginning because it’s less recent and memorable. I do know that I wasn’t as intrigued by the beginning as I had hoped, but that was probably because I wanted to take my time and couldn’t because I was initially trying to finish it all before I returned it, but I then decided that I wanted more time to read it.
This book was about Gretchen, an honorary niece of Adolf Hitler as he works on gaining power in Germany. At the beginning of the book she’s under his thumb completely, but she isn’t a fanatic either. She believes what Hitler does, but she isn’t cruel like her terrifying brother. She doesn’t like the way that people like her brother beat up Jews, but that doesn’t mean she sees them as her equal either. The book is about Gretchen starting to understand how her world really works and what Hitler really wants to do (here’s a hint: it’s not simply shipping all of Germany’s Jews off to another country, obviously), starting to consider Jews as actual people and figuring out what she wants to fight for.
There are interesting characters and disturbing ones galore. Gretchen grows in her knowledge throughout the book, but she isn’t the only character who is stuck under Hitler’s thumb. There are other young women who are stuck in Hitler’s orbit and forced to feel the toxicity of that life. There’s Hitler’s half-niece, a family friend, and Gretchen’s best friends, all of varying levels of love for and interest in Hitler. Then there are some very scary characters, namely Gretchen’s brother Reinhard, who is a classic psychopath and used as a foil for the equally frightening but in a different way Hitler. Reinhard is cruel and doesn’t care about anyone, even his own family. When Gretchen has a cat at the very beginning, I had a very bad feeling about what would happen with the poor dear (here’s a spoiler about the cat if you need to know like me: she doesn’t make it past the halfway point of the book; end spoiler). He terrified me so much, in a way that many bookish antagonists fail to do.
I really don’t know that much about Germany, especially in the post-WWI, pre-WWII days, so it was interesting getting to see that world through the eyes of a young German girl who’s known little else. Things are not good in Germany after they lost the “Great War,” and it’s that uncertain and difficult environment that enables Hitler to rise to power as he does. It’s definitely not a time and place that I would ever want to visit.
The Adult Situation
Gretchen only has one parent after her father died a great Nazi martyr, and her mother isn’t there for her nearly as much as Gretchen needs. It’s harder to tell how much of a presence adults had in pre-WWII Germany, but it doesn’t seem like Gretchen needs her mother in her daily life as much as most teenagers today. That being said, Gretchen definitely missed having her mother there to support her and make things easier in her day-to-day life, especially when dealing with the darkness in her own home.
For me, one of the least interesting things was the romance. I’m not sure why – I didn’t dislike it, but I also didn’t love it either. I was just kind of meh about it. Daniel was needed to help Gretchen understand what was going on and what Hitler really wanted, so he was essential to her growth, but I really don’t think that the romance was necessary. This is one of those few books that I think I would have enjoyed even without a romance, so it seemed like the romance was too much with everything else going on, at least for me.
As I read through the book, I wasn’t totally sure if I wanted to read the sequel even though I was enjoying this book simply because it was a difficult read, especially when it came to scenes with Reinhard. However, by the time I turned the last page, I knew that I wanted to know what would happen next and how Gretchen would keep up her fight as Hitler began his inevitable rise to power.
My favorite part with the end, though, was the historical note. It was really interesting reading all the details that went into the story, discovering little tidbits that I had never known because, though I know a fair bit about WWII, I really don’t know that much about Germany’s specific background during that time.
This book isn’t a new favorite simply because I don’t think I’d be able to reread it and go through those harder scenes again, but it was a great historical book and debut. I understand the great praise surrounding this book and I look forward to the sequel, no matter how difficult it might be.