I’m so delighted today to join the blog tour and share my review of People Like Us by Louise Fein: published by Head of Zeus on 7th May and available now from Amazon for kindle, via Google Play, and for Kobo. It’s also available now as an audiobook, but you might want to wait for the hardcover edition – that’s out on 6th August, and you might like to preorder from somewhere other than Amazon in view of their current prioritisation of orders (here are the links for Waterstones and Hive – but you can, of course, order from your favourite independent bookshop). The paperback will be published in March 2021. (I will just mention too that, in the US and Canada, this book is published under the title Daughter of the Reich.)
My thanks to Vicky at Head of Zeus for the invitation and support, and for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley). And what a book it was…
Leipzig, 1930’s Germany.
Hetty Heinrich is a young girl growing up under Nazi rule. With an SS officer father, a brother in the Luftwaffe and a member of the BDM, Hetty is the epitome of a perfect German child.
But Walter changes everything. Blond haired, blue-eyed, perfect in every way Walter. The boy who saved her life. A Jew.
As she falls more and more in love with a man who is against all she has been taught, Hetty begins to question everything. Will the steady march of dark forces destroy their world, or can love ultimately triumph?
Perfect for fans of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, The Book Thief and Kate Furnivall.
It’s not very often I sob uncontrollably in the garden on a sunny afternoon – but my goodness, I haven’t read a book that had such a powerful emotional impact in quite some time. And there was nothing remotely manipulative about it, just a totally heartbreaking love story set against an exceptionally drawn period of history.
Set in Leipzig, the book begins with the innocence of a child – Hetty’s attachment to Walter, the boy who saved her life, her brother’s friend. Through her child’s eye view, we witness the rise of Nazism, the growing enmity towards the Jewish population, the appropriation of property, the regimentation of the population, the deification of Hitler – as Hetty’s father rises through the ranks of the SS, she follows the path of unquestioning duty. The insights into the daily lives of ordinary German people are extraordinary, the domestic detail, the day-to-day lives, all set against a vivid portrayal of the growing threat, the constant indoctrination and the rising tide of hatred.
And then, Hetty finds out that Walter is Jewish – and it turns her firmly held beliefs and her comfortable life entirely upside down. He’s blonde and blue-eyed, and doesn’t conform to the “type” they had described – with living examples – at their school assembly (one of so many stunning set pieces in the book that will long stay in the memory). And when they meet again, totally against the odds, their relationship only grows – despite the massive risks, including the possibility of betrayal by others, their love becomes all-consuming. It’s a love that makes you ache because its sheer impossibility, the risks they take every time they meet… and as their love story develops, it plays itself out against the horrifying backdrop of the approach of the Second World War.
Hetty and Walter’s story is, of course, fiction, albeit inspired by the author’s family history (do read the author’s note at the book’s end) – but fiction set against an only-too-real background, with an exceptional depth of accurate detail. I’ve never read a story told from quite this perspective before, and it’s what makes it all so much more powerful – Hetty’s early unquestioning belief that her way is the right way is exceptionally disturbing, but entirely understandable, and so superbly conveyed. The whole book has the intimacy of a memoir – told in the first person, everything is seen through Hetty’s eyes, as we travel with her along her journey from blind allegiance, through uncertainty and questioning, to anger and opposition as the cruelty and dehumanisation escalates.
This is a deeply affecting love story – one that will strengthen your belief in the power of love, and its ability to overcome every obstacle. The book’s ending – that so broke me – is almost unbearably uplifting, perfectly pitched, a glorious triumph of hope and endurance. But what will particularly remain with me from this book is that horrifying backdrop, the way an ideology took over a people, that blind belief, the ease with which hatred and brutality became the norm. This is such an important book, and one I doubt I’ll ever forget – and to forget its lessons would be unforgivable.
About the author
Louise Fein holds an MA in Creative Writing from St Mary’s University. Prior to studying for her master’s, she ran a commodity consultancy business following a career in banking and law. She lives in Surrey with her family. People Like Us is inspired by her family history, and by the alarming parallels she sees between the early 30s and today.
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