It is August, 1942 and Jonas Alber is ten years old. It is hard to write a review about a book that begins with such a beautiful narrative voice… There is something truly humbling about trying to compete with that voice. Jonas begins the book with his “Last Will and Testament” and goes on to explain why he is writing this Will as a ten year old:
“I am living in rue Cuvier now because Signor Corrado brought me to see the Professor yesterday. He fixed it up for me to come here and be safe. So far, I have been safe in this house for one day.”
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear to readers that Jonas has been separated by his family who have been rounded up by the Nazis. Jonas’ journey into hiding has taken him through a circus, into the arms of some simply wonderful characters and finally to the safely of the Professor who we discover was Jonas’ mother’s music teacher when she was younger.
What struck me about this book was the wonder that was woven into such a terrifying period of our history. Jonas finds safety in such unusual places and the innocence with which he perceives his experiences is both refreshing and sad.
While this book didn’t touch me in the same way that Leon Leyson’s memoir did, I still think it’s an incredibly valuable young adult book about life during this period. If you’re a fan of good YA historical fiction, I highly recommend this book and I will certainly be on the lookout for more books by the stellar Mary Finn.
It’s been too long since I last read an epic tale like this one. In fact, I don’t think I’ve read such a captivating drama since Gregory’s Wideacre trilogy had me captive.
Elton’s book gripped me from the first page and had me hanging by a thread until the very end. There was only one moment where he lost me, but I’ll forgive him that because the book itself was just too otherwise perfect.
Elton weaves two narratives. The first in the past, Berlin 1920 to be precise. The story of a Jewish woman who gives birth to twins. The story of this woman and her family forms the basis of the narrative and unfolds parallel to the birth of Hitler’s Nazi party. Elton has managed to convey the flurry of insanity which engulfed Germany in this post war period. The uncertainty, the beauty, the mania. He does it while simultaneaously moulding Frieda Stengel and her beloved husband, Wolfgang, into characters that we as readers have no choice but to love.
Elton’s second narrative occurs in 1956. And about this I will say nothing for it will simply spoil the magic of the two tales.
For me, part of the aura of this book was the historical context but never did that over power the magic of Elton’s characters. The generous Frieda, her two sons, her trumpet playing husband and of course the beautiful Dagmar and loving Silke.
This book will surely resonate with me for a long time and if you are a fan of historical fiction I can’t recommend it enough. You will not be disappointed.