This book had me bound up in hope that the good in human nature will prevail.Two men, a world at war, opposing sides, then something transpires that breaks all the known conventional rules that should never happen.
The world is licking its wounds and clearing up the mess after WWII. We find ourselves at the Nuremberg Trials and Frank Hawthorne, an American GI, has decided to go against the flow of general public opinion. Risking his own untarnished and heroic service record, he returns to Germany to act as a witness in defence of Graf Johann von Biehn who is on trial for Nazi war crimes. What the world doesn't know is that they are lovers and Frank is back to desperately try and save Johann from the impending death sentence everyone wishes to see. Each chapter of the book is divided into two sections which makes for a compelling read and works extremely well with me. This flashback format doesn't work for everyone, but I would like to follow this structure in my review;1943 The Spreewald near Berlin.
Captain Frank Hawthorne is on a secret mission to assassinate top Nazi officials planning to meet at the Manor from Graf Johann von Biehn. However, after an accident the assignment doesn't turn out exactly as Frank had planned it. Waking up in the garden shed Frank is confronted with the very person he's supposed to assassinate (along with others) who has been nursing him back to health. The attraction between the two of them is immediately apparent. Although convention says that this should never be! Johann is not what he appears to be and it is obvious that Frank has to reconsider and question his orders changing his plans accordingly. Johann is holding the key to help the allies win a major tactical advantage and needs to get this information to them. Johann is your proverbial good German
in a country taken over by a madness and gone very wrong. I really felt the shame, pain and love he holds for his country...."This is my country and I don't commit treason against it when I help in getting rid of the worst plague I have ever seen. Whenever doubts become a crime, whenever parents become afraid their children might turn them in; a country where the power of the government is mired inextricably with the jurisdiction and the executive, where you have three secret polices spying on the population and people disappear without word, that is not my country. My country and Nazi Germany, those are two very different places. And I dearly hope I'll live to see the day when the latter falls."
When the time comes to part and get Frank out of Nazi Germany I was almost reduced to tears at the parting scene. Both sides wanting nothing more than to stay together, but circumstances unfortunately dictating otherwise and driving them apart.
I just wished that this part of the story could have been fleshed out a little more. As beautifully written and plotted as it was I felt there was so much more potential here to develop their story and relationship a little more. Building trust and their attraction a little slower and introducing more mistrust of each other at the beginning. After all even if the hormones are racing, this is an American GI in Nazi Germany and I felt it just moved a little too fast. Considering Frank is caught like a rat in a trap, hiding his true mission and Johann would have to be very gaurded and suspicious of his motives, I just felt that Johann was a little too "full-on" at the beginning and wasn't cagey enough. The constant use of Süßer
(sweetie) was a little overdone, especially so early on and gave Johann a somewhat "camp" or effeminate nature to his character which I felt wasn't really in keeping of my image of a high ranking Nazi official. Johann is obviously highly intelligent, if not having a quirky side to his nature. However, these are personal points and also me just being greedy for something I felt had real potential and had wished it lasted a little longer than it did as it was very enjoyable.1946 Nuremberg Trails
Frank returns to Nuremberg after the war to try and save his lover from the impending death sentence facing him in the trials. For this he risks his good reputation and service record and flies against the face of public opinion. He is helped by Elias a Jewish lawyer who also escaped Nazi Germany. Elias is also critical to the release of Johann and has a hard fight on his hands.
This part of the story was exceptionally well conceived and I could feel the tension in the courtroom and the desperation Frank and Elias were going through in order to get the conviction turned around. Chief Prosecutor Jackson is a hard-nosed lawyer and determined to see justice done. However, he believes in justice and not a circus for the world to watch and becomes a pivotal player later in the trial. The suspense in the courtroom was palpable and I could picture Johann standing there on show, completely resigned to his fate. However, when the courtroom drama takes a swing in Johann's favour I found myself elated and wanting to cry with relief at the same time.
Immediately after WWII the Nürnberg Trials were a showcase for the whole world. The emotional scars were still deep and upon reflection from today's historical standpoint it could be argued to exactly how fair and impartial the trials actually were. Johann is made to appear in his Nazi uniform, therefore perpetuating the monster image the world wants to see."They don't let you wear anything else?!" Turning around, Frank looked at Elias. "What is the meaning of this, Elias?"
Well, that's exactly the point! If Johann was allowed to appear in civilian clothing that could make him appear too human. Wouldn't want that now, would we? As exciting as the courtroom drama was it was also a subtle critique on the Nuremberg Trials, cleverly written and very unobtrusive. The writing was tight, well scripted and drew me into the story immediately.
The story is balanced and raises many questions and makes you realise that nothing is good or bad, black or white, but there are always exceptions and you should be careful of stereotyping. As Frank says after being provoked by a group of American GIs,"Maybe one day you'll learn that not all Germans are monsters and not all Americans are heroes."
Or as he thought while he was with Johann in the Spreewald questioning his own orders, "he wondered where the difference was between the good guys and the bad guys if their means were all just born out of perceived necessity and their goals by the unquestioned orders they had been given."
I would really love to have known what happened to their lives between parting the first time and meeting again in Nuremberg. Did they stay in contact? Did Johann smuggle more info to the Allies using Frank as a contact? How was Johann treated when he was arrested? What about the stories of him helping Jewish families escape the country? Joahnn obviously has a big story to tell there, not only the one with Frank. Obviously Frank was being forced to keep his information secret from the trials. Maybe Frank was also party to an interview with a Jewish family seeking escape. Maybe Frank could have helped him set up a secure route for the Jewish families. These were just a few very personal thoughts going around in my head that would have rounded the story off for me. If Osiris ever decides to rewrite this story by putting more meat on the bones, filling it out a little, then I would read it again in an instant. Osiris has real talent and feel that things will only go from great to fantastic.
I enjoyed this book immensely and it hit all the right buttons for me. Historical, reflective, questioning values and perceptions, but also emotional and full of hope for the future. Illustrating the good side of human nature. I would definitely read more books from Osiris of this nature.~ This book was provided by the author in return for a fair and honest review ~