In Gilbert’s debut historical novel, a family fleeing Nazi persecution endures a series of forced relocations.
Throughout the fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazi Germany, Walter Baum, a slight young man with a stout heart and lofty ideals, never loses sight of what he values most: the love of his wife and children. As a Jewish sociologist in post–World War I Germany, Walter watches with dread as friends and family either become members of the Brownshirts or fall victim to them. His marriage to Caroline, a like-minded Protestant, causes family estrangements and forced flights that make up the plot of this highly affecting narrative. Characters make their way to Paris, Angouleme, North Africa and even the French Foreign Legion. The family’s brief periods of stability offer little respite; news of family members murdered or imprisoned in concentration camps reminds them of the horrors they left behind. Even when Walter accepts an offer to head a Jewish settlement in the Dominican Republic, he can’t escape oppression, as President Rafael Trujillo exerts his own brand of tyranny; the settlement succeeds for a while, but as the dictator tightens the screws and Caroline’s strength falters, Walter believes one more trip may be in order. Gilbert depicts the family’s struggles with tension and poignancy, deftly handling harrowing events. The suspense of whether each new home will bring stability or persecution will keep readers turning pages. Often, the smallest moments carry the most weight: young Fred collecting stamps from the rejections to his father’s frantic visa applications; Caroline earning a few francs by translating love letters between French women and German soldiers; Walter, a retired major, gardening “to bring life out of a ground that had absorbed so many dead.”
A captivating story of fortitude, family bonds and hope against all odds.