Monday, April 20, 2020

Review: The German Heiress by Anika Scott

What good does guilt do? It comes after the fact, never changing the past action that inspired it. The one thing that guilt does do though, is that it confirms the conscience of the person experiencing it. And without guilt there can be no true remorse, no hope that a person will do better going forward. This is particularly interesting in the context of the actions people take during wars like WWII. So many people just put their heads down and carried on. Some people truly agreed with the Nazis, throwing themselves into working for the party willingly, eagerly, while others did what they felt they must to survive. But when the dust settled, who was who? And does it even matter? Do guilt and remorse after the fact, coupled with small gestures during a great evil, balance out the immeasurable harm, known and unknown? What price does loyalty carry, especially loyalty to the wrong thing or person? Anika Scott asks these perhaps unanswerable, unknowable questions in her debut novel, The German Heiress, especially in the person of her main character, Clara Falkenburg, once known as the Iron Fraulein for her position assisting her father in the running of the family's massive ironworks, a key contributor to the Nazi war machine.

Almost two full years after the end of WWII, Margarete Muller gets engaged to her doctor boyfriend just before telling him she needs to return home to search for her missing best friend. But this man with whom she thinks she might start a new life is not who he seems and she is repulsed by the hints of who he truly is. Then again neither she is not who she claims either. Margarete Muller is an alias and she is really the missing heiress to the Falkenburg ironworks, Clara Falkenburg, who fled her home before the Allies arrived. Now she feels pulled to return to Essen to find her friend Elisa and Elisa's son Willy. She is discovered on the train back and is briefly captured by the English Captain Thomas Fenshaw, who has been hunting her for war crimes for two years. She manages to escape but thus starts a cat and mouse game with Clara searching for Elisa and Fenshaw searching for Clara. As Clara searches, she finds an unexpected and unlikely ally in Jakob Relling, a black marketeer, who is searching for Elisa for his own reasons.

While Clara is the main focus of the story, the narration centers on both Clara and Jakob Relling, showing the impact of the war on not only a figurehead suspected of war crimes (Clara) but also a regular German swept along in the war (Jakob). Jakob fought in the Nazi army in Russia, lost his leg, and now must do his best to provide for his two young sisters, one of whom is pregnant by a long disappeared English soldier, and the only family he has left out of a once large clan. Clara is on the run from the Captain, barely staying one step ahead of him and his relentless search, living in the rubble and ruins of her once proud city. Jakob has discovered a treasure trove of Nazi supplies in an old coal mine, a stash that would keep his family fed for a year or more, but he is wary of the teenage boy guarding it, a boy who doesn't believe the war is over and whose mind may be permanently affected by his experiences during the war. How Jakob's discovery and Clara's search are related is not a surprise to the reader but it is to Clara. And it is just one of the secrets that she uncovers over the course of the novel, life-changing secrets about her friends and family. As she comes to understand the truth about others, Jakob also helps her understand the truth about herself, the knowledge that she didn't do enough, that her small acts of conscience never made up for the terrible evil, the exploitation, the abuse, and the death that her position and public actions condoned. Scott beautifully evokes the bleak winter landscape of Essen and the desperate poverty and threat of starvation throughout the devastated city. The bombed outward landscape reflects the frozen piece at Clara's moral core, the place that she has pushed the remorse, the guilt, and the knowledge of her culpability. The story is an intense one, balancing both the thrill of the chase with deep, personal reflections and the ending itself reflects this careful balance. What is right and fair might remain unanswered but this compelling and propulsive historical fiction certainly gives readers a lot to think about in the characters of Clara, Jakob, and Fenshaw.

For more information about Anika Scott and the book, check our her author site, like her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter look at the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and publisher William Morrow for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like the perfect book to sink into during the quarantine! Thank you for being on this tour. Sara @ TLC Book Tours


I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

Popular Posts