Monday, July 16, 2012
A City of Broken Glass by Rebecca Cantrell
If Hannah had known she was going to end up in Berlin in time for Kristallnact, she might not have taken her thirteen-year-old son, Anton, with her to Poland on her latest newspaper assignment. But, her editor thought he was sending her to safety, away from threatening letters that had arrived at the Swiss newspaper where she worked. He sent her to cover the Saint Martin's Day Festival in Poland. But, she arrived at the same time Germany arrested more than 12,000 Polish Jews and deported them across the border. Under the alias Adelheid Zinsli, Hannah insisted on visiting stables where the refugees were forced to live. There, she found the wife of an ex-lover, a frightened woman who begged Hannah to find her two-year-old daughter, Ruth, locked at home in a cupboard in Berlin. Despite Hannah's awareness she can't return to Germany, she promises to look for the little girl.
Hannah doesn't know what mistake she made, but before she and Anton can leave Poland, she's kidnapped by Gestapo agents and taken to Germany. She's rescued by her son, and Lars Lang, her lover, and a man who had disappeared with no word two years earlier. As Hannah fights her feelings for Lars, she's forced to trust him and work with him to reach Berlin and search for Ruth. Hannah's search leads her to the heart of the Jewish community there, and into deeper trouble. While she tries to find a means to escape the country, she still does her best to find the little girl. As the trio travels around the city, they're witnesses to the terror, and eventually the tragedy in Berlin. And, everyone that Hannah loves is in danger when a German diplomat is shot by a Jew in Paris, and Hitler deliberately tells the people they can do anything they would like to the Jews.
A City of Broken Glass is a powerful novel, a story told by a reporter, a witness to the tragic events of late 1938. It's a gripping story because it's told by a woman who has been a victim herself, a woman who has lost loved ones, beginning with her brother, and fears she'll lose everyone she loves to the Nazis. But, Hannah Vogel can't hide what she sees in Germany, and she has reported and written about it for years despite threats and violence. Her son, wise beyond his years, says he knows why she has to go to Berlin, despite the danger. "To see. To help. To do what's right."
Cantrell's notes reveal that Hannah wasn't the only one who did what was right and spoke out. But, the novel focuses on Hannah, Anton, and Lars. The story is a romance as well as a fictional account of one moment in time. As the three characters find themselves searching for answers to the disappearance of a child, they are also caught up in the events in Poland, and then Berlin. Rebecca Cantrell succeeds in putting faces on the events of November 1938, allowing the reader to feel the fear, and witness the violence and horrors through Hannah's eyes. In Cantrell's hands, A City of Broken Glass is not only a surprising mystery, but also a compelling historical novel.
Rebecca Cantrell's website is www.rebeccacantrell.com
A City of Broken Glass by Rebecca Cantrell. Forge. 2012. ISBN 9780765327345 (hardcover), 336p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.