Series: Prisoner of Night and Fog # 1
Published by Balzer + Bray on April 22, 2014
Genres: Historical FIction
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?
From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she's ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.
If you’ve been craving a novel that depicts Adolf Hitler in all of his teenager-creeping glory, Prisoner of Night and Fog might be for you. I can usually count on having good luck with historical fiction, particularly novels set during WWI or WWII. (This story takes place in the period between the two wars.) But unfortunately, this book was mostly a miss for me, primarily due to problems with the protagonist.
Gretchen is a teenager in Munich, fiercely loyal to the Nazi party. She’s known as the “martyr’s daughter” as a result of events that occurred nearly a decade ago, when her father jumped in front of a bullet intended for Hitler. Since then, her family was taken under Hitler’s wing, and Gretchen became a kind of pet to her “Uncle Dolf.” WWII and the Holocaust are still years away, but Hitler and the Nazis are already sowing the seeds of Jewish hatred. Gretchen has no reason to question these beliefs. If Uncle Dolf says Jews are subhuman, he must be right. She may not possess the same level of hatred, but she does her best to avoid contact with Jews.
So far, so good. Many people are raised with prejudices and biases, and Gretchen’s beliefs were commonplace at that time. However, when a Jewish boy whispers to her from an alley that he has information on her father’s death, it’s like a flip is switched, and all of Gretchen’s biases quickly disappear. Why would she trust anyone in an alley who is behaving suspiciously, let alone someone she has been raised her entire life to hate? I was excited to read a YA novel set in this period from the German point of view, but unfortunately, the opportunity to explore how someone can overcome deep biases was squandered here. I know that it can happen, but I don’t think it happens the way it’s portrayed here, when Gretchen so quickly converts from Jew hater to sympathizer.
I was also looking forward to seeing how Hitler would be portrayed, with all of his grotesquely fascinating angles. Again, I was disappointed. We view Hitler almost solely through his interactions with Gretchen. Uncle Dolf was a doting father figure to Gretchen ever since her father’s death, and she looks up to him in an almost worshipful way. I didn’t find it believable when Gretchen quickly turns on him, based on the whispers from a Jewish boy. And loving Uncle Dolf inexplicably turns on Gretchen just as quickly when she seeks him out for help after a vicious beating from her brother. This book is part of a series, so it’s not a lack of time that resulted in these abrupt and hard to believe shifts. We all already know how horrible Hitler was, and I think this story would have benefited more from letting us see exactly what made Gretchen adore him so much. It would also have been realistic to show how devastated Gretchen should have been to have her illusions about her dear uncle shattered, but that doesn’t happen here.
Several times, various enemies of Hitler seek Gretchen out for help in thwarting him. This is even before her “conversion.” These people stand to lose a great deal from being exposed, so why do they approach Gretchen, of all people? Why do they tell her she’s remarkable? These questions are even more mysterious than the meaning of Hitler’s mustache.
The writing style in Prisoner of Night and Fog is very young. Yes, this is YA, but I’m used to reading YA that has a more sophisticated style. At times, this reads more like a junior-high level history textbook.
Despite my misgivings about the first book in this series, I will likely check out the sequel. Now that Gretchen has found her mission, I hope I can sit back and enjoy it, and not be bothered by the unrealistic way in which she reached this point.
Note: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review