Title: Prisoner of Night and Fog
Author: Anne Blankman
Publisher: Balzar & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins
Publication date: April 22, 2014
This book was actually recommended to me by a friend, Holly, who runs her own book blog. She had heard it was good, and knew it was WWII-related, but hadn’t yet read it – so I decided to take on the task. Little did I realize how hard it would be to do anything else but read it once I had started. I had a to-do list a mile long today and finished approximately zero items because I was too enthralled with this story to get things done.
*minor plot spoilers to follow*
From Anne Blankman’s website, here’s a quick rundown of the story:
In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her “uncle” Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet. Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler… and Gretchen follows his every command… until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews. As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?
I’m a sucker for historical fiction, especially anything set in this particular part of history. I think it can be hard to find a book that captures the feeling of the World War II era but also has a genuine emotional depth to the story and a storyline that brings something new to the genre. Prisoner of Night and Fog delivers on all accounts.
This book did remind me a bit of The Book Thief, with how the main character in each is a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany just before World War II. I admit that The Book Thief holds a special place in my heart – however, one thing that Prisoner of Night and Fog does better is maneuvering the moral minefield of a character who believes wholeheartedly in the National Socialist Party at first – and then begins to change her mind. Where Liesel from The Book Thief is always skeptical and disapproving of the Nazi Party’s actions and teachings, mostly due to the influence of her foster parents, and easily befriends the Jewish Max when he appears in their home, Gretchen from Prisoner of Night and Fog has a far more difficult time coming to terms with Hitler’s plan for Germany. She is truly uncomfortable with the Jewish people she encounters, at least at the beginning of the story, and she genuinely struggles with turning away from everything she’s always heard and believed.
Her slow understanding of the horrors of the Party she’s followed and trusted for so long was incredibly believable and moving. Even though she loves and respects Hitler as an uncle/father figure, I never once hated her as a character, because I could see how she had been manipulated and how, to her, following Hitler was the only option that ever made sense. As a character, Gretchen proves that people can change. Following her investigation into her father’s death, and with the help of the Jewish reporter Daniel, she evolves into a person more critical of the world around her, and that’s something to be applauded.
Additionally, I’m never a fan of forced love stories, or love interests fostered on the main characters just for the sake of romance. However, the relationship between Gretchen and Daniel grows slowly and naturally. It doesn’t feel rushed and never made me question its validity or its place in the story. In fact, it actually adds to the overall emotional impact of the book, and in a big way. According to Goodreads, this is just the first book in a series, so I hope we get to see more of these two stellar characters – and their continued relationship – in the next book.
Anyone who loves a good historical fiction – read this book. Anyone who is interested in World War II, or Germany, or the Holocaust – read this book. Anyone who enjoys a fantastic YA romance – read this book. Really, just to cover all bases, everyone – read this book.
5 out of 5 stars.