BOOK CLUB: THE VIENNESE GIRL

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Author:  Jenny Lecoat
ISBN:  9 781760 877927
Copy courtesy of Allen and Unwin

“The Viennese Girl” is a historical romance that engaged me far more strongly than I’d expected. It’s based on a true story, and very early on I lost myself in the story completely, to the extent that I read this in a day.

In 1940 the Jersey Islands find themselves all but abandoned by the English. They’re difficult to defend, and the English have other things to worry about in Europe. So the German army takes the Islands unopposed and begins an occupation that will become increasingly brutal.

Hedy Bercu fled from Vienna to escape the Nazis as it became clear that her Jewish heritage put her in danger. Difficulties with visas have left her stranded on the Jersey Islands. She knows better than most of the Islanders what is to come, and she’s terrified. But despite her fear, to survive she takes a job as a translator for the German authorities. Before long, she begins using her position to commit small acts of resistance.

But keeping her head down and not advertising her racial status comes at a cost; German lieutenant Kurt Neumann doesn’t realise she’s a Jew, and they’re rapidly falling in love. As the Nazis become more blatantly brutal, Hedy will need to turn to Kurt to survive – and that will mean revealing her secret.

This is based on a true story. One of the few criticisms I have of it is that it’s such an excellent story, by the end I was eager to know how much of it was true, and what happened to the main characters in the long run. Sadly, there is no real indication of this in the acknowledgements. I suppose not everyone will be bothered by that, but it seems cruel to engage us so strongly with these characters and yet not share this information.

For all that, the novel ends in a satisfying place. Most readers will feel that it’s reached a natural conclusion that seems right for the novel.
The time and place are vividly drawn, including the experiences of the Jersey Islanders. These have not often been depicted in fiction, and I don’t think they’re widely known.

Although many echo the experiences of European civilians, being trapped on an island adds a different dimension. I was broadly aware of these, but found this aspect of the novel fascinating.

The novel has two main strengths; one is the strong and realistic plot. It draws the reader in quickly and makes it extraordinarily difficult to put the novel down. It’s not that it’s all high drama or cliffhangers. It’s more that it’s so very real, with a constant level of tension. Whatever liberties Lecoat may have taken to novelise the story have worked well.

The other primary strength is the engaging characters. Lecoat shows us their feelings and experiences in a way that absorbs readers into their lives and quickly has you caring about them. The love story is an important part of the novel, and it feels very credible. This is a really enjoyable novel. It’s absorbing, entertaining, memorable, and easy to read.

It’s well worth reading and should be enjoyed by readers looking for either romance or historical fiction.

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading The Viennese Girl by Jenny Lecoat. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

10 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: THE VIENNESE GIRL

  1. ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ by Mary Ann Shaffer is the only WWII book I have read, apart from this book, that’s set in the English Channel Islands. Such a fabulous – and heartbreaking – slice of history. So terrifying and yet so poignant. I jumped at the chance to read this book once I knew the setting. But. wow, what a roller coaster. Picture Jewish woman Hedy Bercu from Vienna, separated from parents and siblings after fleeing Austria for sanctuary on Jersey – only to face German invasion two years later in 1940. Imagine working for the Germans because you can work as a translator, trying to frantically conceal your Jewish identity and only doing so by the infests of threads. No job means no food and no place to rent, so working is a necessary evil. Once the Germans are there, no-one can get off the island. Every day is a nightmare for Hedy as she clings to existence. She trusts no-one, including the handsome and compassionate German lieutenant Kurt Neumann, who is obviously falling for her – and she, unbelievably and reluctantly – for him. He has no idea she is Jewish. Hedy fears as soon as he knows, his solace and companionship will be ripped away from her; yet another loss in her life. The dread of war, the suspicions, treachery, betrayals, hunger, innocence lost, and the cruelties or war and claustrophobia of the invaded island are all here. But also the triumph and hope of love, even in the worst of times.
    Thankyou to Beauty & Lace and Allen & Unwin Australia for the chance to read this book.

  2. Thankyou Beauty and Lace,Jenny Lecoat and Allen&Unwin for the chance to read The Viennese Girl.
    I found this book to be one of the ones that you want to turn the pages quickly but on the other hand are frightened at what the next page might bring.
    Based on a true story we all need to read of the hardships and terror that some were subjected to during the war so that these events of strength and heroism never be forgotten.
    Hedwig Bercu after already escaping the German invasion is trapped on the island of Jersey, forgotten by the English and occupied by German forces.
    Heady and her friend Anton surviving only on scraps of food caught from the sea or exchanged for the mega coupons allowed and are struggling.
    Anton meets a Jersey girl and is instantly smitten, and now with the three to provide for Hedy(against her better judgment) accepts a job working in the Germany compound where she finds a small way to fight back.
    All the time hiding the word JEW stamped on her papers she manages to hide within the crowd unti she meets a German officer Kurt Neumann and falls in love.
    Kurt is not unsympathetic to their fight to survive and tries to help, putting all their lives in danger.
    Hedy and Kurt are two of many on the island just trying to get through until hopefully the insidious war will end but then there are those who choose to terrorise and control making any escape from the island impossible.
    Definitely a book I would recommend especially as it is a true story. I like other reviews would be curious to know what happen in the lives of Hedy and Kurt after they were reunited.

  3. Based on true events, The Viennese Girl by Jenny Lecoat tells the story of Hedy, a young Jewish woman who fled her home in Austria only to end up trapped in Jersey, Channel Islands when the Nazi occupation began in 1940. When the family Hedy works for flees, she faces the moral dilemma of working for the Germans as a translator. She also must question her Jewish culture by eating whatever foods become available when rations become scarcer and scarcer. Hedy has only one close friend at that time, Anton. As Anton finds his love interest and builds a relationship with the Jersey local, Dorothea, so too does Hedy find love – though in an unexpected place – with a Nazi lieutenant, Kurt. Hedy soon learns Kurt shares the same hatred for Nazi practices and the harsh and unfair realities of war, and together their love blooms. This historical romance shows that love crosses races and religions, war harms all no matter the side and that the strength to survive often means questioning ones initial values and morals.

    Thank you to Allen & Unwin and Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read this novel. It was definitely a page turner.

  4. It started in 1940, the German army invade the Jersey island where Hedy Bercu lived, having fled here to escape the Nazis two years earlier. Being a young Jewish girl, her whole existence was threatened again.
    She fights to hide who she is until she is outed by the officials. This meant she had to abide by the rules set out for the Jews on the island.
    She has one friend on the island, Anton, and when he introduces her to his new girlfriend she offers the suggestion of a job working for the Germans. Money being scarce she applies for a job as a translator. It is here she meets and falls in love with a German lieutenant, Kurt Neumann.
    This book was set in a very terrible time but it showed great courage and strength in it’s characters, who you couldn’t help but like. I actually found myself laughing at points which I didn’t expect in this time setting but it was written so well and with some classic lines.
    The fact that this was based on a true story makes this story all the more appealing.

    Thanks to Allen&Unwin for this ARC to enjoy and review. I appreciate it greatly as this book was a definite 5 star for me. Although I didn’t get this from Beauty and Lace I am happy to share my review.

  5. Wow! What a page turner! I loved the authenticity of this work and the characters brought to life by the author. The fact that it’s based on a true story is a bonus and the author definitely did the story justice. I look forward to reading more from this author in the future. Thanks Allen & Unwin and Beauty & Lace for allowing me to be part of the ARC team for this amazing book

  6. Thanks Allen & Unwin and Beauty & Lace for allowing me to review this book.

    I am a huge fan of WWll novels, and this one didn’t disappoint. As others have said this was based on a true story which always intrigues me. I loved the characters, I really felt the author gave you just enough to really be drawn into their lives

    With the novel being set in Jersey I found it offered a slight difference to a lot of the other novels I have read.

    I really recommend this novel and I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

  7. I don’t usually read novels set in the era of World War II but after reading The Viennese Girl by Jenny Lecoat, perhaps I should.
    Lecoat was able to bring the characters to life and vividly portray the hardship, fear and struggle for survival when Nazi Germany invaded the Channel Islands.
    Hedy Bercu, a young Jewish girl who had fled to Jersey, a tiny island in the Channel Island group, to avoid the Anschluss, found herself trapped and isolated with no way of escape when Jersey was invaded by the Germans. The novel successfully interwove a story of extreme adversity and suffering with the power of the human spirit, resilience and will for survival. The unfolding of Hedy’s relationship with German Officer Lieutenant Kurt Neumann highlighted that people on both sides of war can be trapped against their will in different ways; and that small acts of defiance and resistance can have an extraordinary impact in the most difficult of circumstances.
    Knowing that this story of Hedy’s struggle and ultimate survival, alongside Jersey’s civilian population, is a fictionalised account based on true events, made this novel all the more poignant.
    I would highly recommend The Viennese Girl and look forward to reading more from Jenny Lecoat.

  8. Thank you Beauty and Lace and Allen and Unwin for the opportunity to review ‘The Viennese Girl’ by Author Jenny Le Coat.
    Due to Covid-19 and postage delays this book took a while to arrive, however it was well worth the wait!

    As an avid reader of WW2 novels, I couldn’t wait to read this book and it didn’t disappoint! Set in the 1940’s this book is inspired by the true life story of Hedwig (Hedy) Bercu-Goldberg a young Jewish woman from Austria who escapes Nazi forces in Vienna, Austria only to be left at the mercy of German occupied Jersey, a small island in the english channel.

    The Author captures Hedy’s daily struggles and survival so vividly and truly reflects the fears and emotions of a young, vulnerable Jewish woman during Nazi Germany’s reign.
    Hedy’s romance with a German Lieutenant Kurt Neumann is portrayed so well leaving the reader to understand the intense risk of their relationship and certain death had they been discovered.

    Hedy’s small acts of defiance and resistance along with the friendships she made along the way, really make for a strong and compelling story of hope and courage and it is a thoroughly enjoyable read frok beginning to end.

  9. I absolutely loved this book by Jenny le Coat. I love books about WW11 and had bever read a book about the Germany’s invasion of Jersey Island. It had suspense, love , drama and friendship and gives a great insight into how war affects everyone on both sides.
    I’m looking forward to reading more books by this talented author.

  10. This book was amazing and taught me so much as I had never read about Jersey Island before even in all my WWII reading! I was intrigued to read about the different nationalities in this melting pot community and how different people reacted when the Germans took over. One thing I found particularly interesting was how Jenny Lecoat showed that there can be good and evil on both sides and people are not always part of an ideology simply because of their nationality.
    Thank you to Beauty and Lace and Allen and Unwin for the opportunity to read and review this book. I look forward to reading more of Jenny’s books!

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