Reviewed by Ian Lipke
It is summer on the European mainland when Georgie Young and Max Spender are posted to Berlin. She finds him arrogant; he regards her as a naïve reporter who is certain to get under his feet. It is 1938 and the German people slavishly follow Hitler’s demands. The city is swathed in red flags bearing swastikas. The interest in the story is Georgie whose presence is such that she draws others to her. She witnesses families being torn apart, and Jews beaten. She feels helpless but is guided from her more irrational leanings by her news reporter friends. With Max, who has the inevitable change of heart, Georgie unearths the darkness of the Nazi soul and must flee Germany.
Much more happens in the story than these bare bones reveal.
This is a story written with conviction and skill. It is a truism that a writer must be convinced that her story holds together, must believe in the story that her imagination has drawn up and moulded into a convincing tale. It doesn’t matter that her characters be dragons or cowards or heroes or Nazis. If the author believes in her imagination, if she is writing under the spell of belief, her writing will be convincing. All this presupposes that the author possesses the skill of stringing words together in a way acceptable to readers. Mandy Robotham demonstrates her considerable gifts in all these things.
Georgie Young knows what she wants. Her actions mirror the woman. If she wants to know what the Germans are planning, she dates a Nazi and unearths much more information than she had thought she would find. She knows, better than her male colleagues did, that facts are transient and often self-evident, that, by contrast, feelings and signs can arouse interest, lead to confidences, rally the people at home. She knows that many of her readers want to be reassured. Her colleague, Max, has little patience for anything other than facts, yet falls in love with Georgie, hides his feelings under a ‘snarly’ exterior (and takes a long time getting around to telling her).
A small number of characters left me wondering. How much experience has Mandy Robotham? I expected Georgie to recognize Max’s true feelings much earlier than she did. She’s out of character in this regard. I found it unlikely that Georgie would be taken to a private Nazi boys’ club and allowed to return unscathed. That Kaspar (Nazi star arising) simply was too tired to seek sexual favours from her beggars belief.
Overall, characters were given their due station. Max, Georgie and Kaspar had much exposure, the outspoken New York Times journalist, Rod Faber, more so than the other reporters, but each sufficient to perform what was required of them. They kept the tale moving. In this they were assisted by a believable setting. Our interest is aroused simply by the date 1938. Most people who were born in the mid-twentieth century know that Germany was not a pleasant place to be. Through conversations with correspondents, with Jews she swore to help, and with the Nazis themselves Georgie brings to us the brutality of the times. A dangerous era, yet Robotham does not forget that, where man’s hands have not lain, the real Germany shows in spectacular fashion its unforgettable beauty.
A very enjoyable read.
By Mandy Robotham
$29.99; 400 pp