Walter Urban and Friedich ‘Fiete’ Caroli work side by side as hands on a dairy farm in northern Germany. By 1945, it seems the War’s worst atrocities are over. When they are forced to ‘volunteer’ for the SS, they find themselves embroiled in a conflict which is drawing to a desperate, bloody close. Walter is put to work as a driver for a supply unit of the Waffen-SS, while Fiete is sent to the front. When the senseless bloodshed leads Fiete to desert, only to be captured and sentenced to death, the friends are reunited under catastrophic circumstances.
In a few days the war will be over, millions of innocents will be dead, and the survivors must find a way to live with its legacy.
Let me start this review with this: I cried on the train because of this novel.
Towards the end of WWII, the Russians and the Americans were closing in and Germany were desperate. Boys, as young as 8 !!, were being forced into becoming soldiers and pushed to the front to fight for a country that were losing, brutally. Thousands of children’s lives were lost.
In this book we meet Walter and Fiete, both young men, aged 17, who are forced into becoming SS soldiers. They are best friends, but they’re very different. Walter is reserved and respectful, Fiete is loud, sarcastic and happy to voice his opinion on what he thinks of the war. Unfortunately, Fiete gets pushed on the front line, fighting a war he thinks is idiotic, so he attempts to desert. Deserters get executed by their own men.
This novel is so beautiful yet so horrible. You can’t really think of this novel as fiction when you know the contents within probably happened to thousands of teenagers. It’s so distressing when you think about how people were treated and how they lived during the war and this book represents it perfectly.
Reading this book, the fear and melancholy of being a soldier fighting a losing battle creeps through your bones. You’re there, stuck in a rotting basement, scared of death yet willing it on, just to get out. I applaud Rothmann for making those feelings so real in me… A young woman, sat on her train going into another day of work, of safety, but with goosebumps, because in her mind, she’s stuck outside in the cold, desperately trying to find a hiding place from the American war planes flying over.
This novel is an emotionally charged story about the brutality of war and the awful things young men were forced to do, just to have their pathetic Fuhrer shamefully kill himself and the battle be lost. I urge any person who likes to read war books, to read this one. The writing is stunning, the characters are real, and the story is harrowing.
Thanks to Picador Books for providing me with an arc copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.