Author: Tania Blanchard
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
Tania Blanchard has written an eye opening debut set in WWII. Now, I learned about the war in high school history, I have watched movies about the war and I have read books set in the war but The Girl From Munich was something completely different from anything I have been exposed to, and remember.
The Girl From Munich is set in Germany, during the war and in the aftermath, and centres on German civilians. These are stories that I haven’t heard. I remember wondering, as a student, how this happened; if the atrocities really were performed by such a small percentage of Germans then how did the rest of the population allow it to happen. The Girl From Munich goes a little way to demonstrating exactly that.
It’s 1943 and Charlotte is planning a gorgeous wedding to her childhood sweetheart, actually it’s more like she’s sitting listening while the mothers plan the perfect wedding. She loves Heinrich but as her childhood best friend she’s known no-one else. Charlotte, Lotte as she’s known throughout the book, is a patriotic supporter of her homeland and wants to do her bit for her country in the war effort. Trained as a photographer she would love to use her camera to capture what is going on but her mother won’t have it; she’s afraid of losing her, and afraid of the effect it will have on the family name.
Lotte gets a job as a secretary for the Luftwaffe, the best compromise that could be arranged with her protective mother. She does administration work relating to the aircraft and airfields, far away from the front. Heinrich is studying to be a doctor; far enough along in his studies to be working and posted to hospitals on the front.
The Girl From Munich is the story of Lotte, an ordinary girl from a wealthy family. A girl who loves her country and believes in the promises being made by the Fuhrer, unaware of all that is going on and hoping that the promises of an end to the war come to pass sooner rather than later.
Blanchard explores the slow dawning of scepticism in many patriotic people as the war continues and the tides don’t seem to be turning in Germany’s favour. Lotte remains loyal to her country, believing the propaganda that is publicised and believing that atrocities are committed without the knowledge of the Fuhrer. We watch on as time passes until she too is left questioning what she has always believed.
There is a lot going on in The Girl From Munich and I think I would benefit from a second read to see what new information I grasp second time round. Yes, it’s a story of WWII and set in the heart of Germany. Yes, it’s a story of civilians and the way they experienced the war.
It is also a coming of age story for the bright-eyed girl desperate to help fight for her country as she waits for the time she can marry her childhood sweetheart and become a woman. Blanchard explores the grief and loss faced when loved ones are lost, or feared lost, in the devastation of battle or bombings. It is the uncertainty of war, the hardship of rations and the commandeering of property by the armed forces for the displaced.
Lotte faces some hard decisions and finds herself at a crossroad more than once. She is faced with following her heart or her family, choosing her affluent upbringing or a life of hard work. Lotte is also faced with the constant fear and uncertainly of possible consequences when the war is over and the Allied forces are trying to round up all involved in the Nazi Party because a membership to the party wasn’t the same as being involved in the Party.
I was drawn to Lotte and her story, her life so different from anything I could imagine; born in a time where young women of good breeding saved themselves for marriage and were always on the look out for a suitable match, not necessarily a meeting of hearts.
The characters are vibrant and well drawn with stories that captivated as well as horrified me. Heinrich, the fiance, is an affluent young man who is used to getting his own way and he annoyed me from the outset. He knew what he wanted and what was expected and dismissed Lotte’s desires and dreams as frivolous because they didn’t fit with his plans. It was a stark contrast with her superior at work Oberinspektor Erich Drescher who listened, respected and valued the work she did to keep their department flowing.
The Girl From Munich follows Lotte from 1943 through the end of the war and beyond. There is a sequel being worked on and I look forward to seeing what is next for Lotte.
I really enjoyed this look at life in Hitler’s Germany and a completely new perspective of World War Two. Tania Blanchard writes a compelling tale that left me invested in the characters and looking forward to more of her work.