Anne Blackman’s novel ‘Prisoner of Night and Fog’ was our Book Club choice this week. I’d left it a bit late to get started on the text, but luckily this was not a difficult read. In fact, I noticed that whilst the story has a very strong plot with lots of activity, there seemed to be a lack of emotional depth to the characters. All was revealed when I discovered that this was actually written as a Young Adult novel. But don’t let that deter you, as this book has a lot to offer.
It is 1931 and Gretchen Muller lives in a boardinghouse with her brother, Reinhard, and her mother. Her father was killed protecting Adolf Hitler from gunfire during the Beer Hall Putsch, a failed attempt by the National Socialist Party to seize power in Munich. As a result of Klaus Muller’s sacrifice, his family has enjoyed the patronage of ‘Uncle Dolf’. Gretchen does not question the view of the world which Hitler has painted for her: the Jews are a scourge, the Aryans a pure race. When a young newspaper reporter, Daniel Cohen, tries to convince Gretchen that the circumstances of her father’s death were not what they seemed, Gretchen’s loyalties are put to the test. Whom should she believe?
This seemingly far-fetched plot actually has its basis in fact as many of the key characters were real people: Rudolf Hess, Ernst Rohm, Eva Braun, Max Amann and Ernst Hanfstaengl amongst others. The author has cited an impressive bibliography, evidence of the huge amount of research which must have gone in to weaving a story around a framework of real events. The result is impressive and readable, an interesting presentation of Hitler’s rise to power.
There is to be a sequel to ‘Prisoner of Night and Fog’ which, judging by the high number of positive reader reviews for this book, is bound to be seized upon eagerly. Whilst I found this novel slightly unsatisfying, I would absolutely recommend it for the young adult audience at which it is aimed.