In this debut historical novel, a Welsh-German girl comes of age in Hamburg during the Nazi regime and World War II.
Catrin Kieffer is a teenager when the Nazi Party rises to power in Germany in 1933. The social upheaval devastates her close-knit family and circle of friends. A Jewish family flees to America and, later, men leave for war. Cat wants to join the fight as well and finally gets her chance as a courier for the Resistance. She retrieves covert messages from a man known as Simon. This is especially dangerous once she’s on the radar of SS Maj. Hecht, who knows her father is an engineer for the Reich. Cat defies the SS by rescuing Jewish families’ pets. A Nazi order prohibits those families from owning pets and other residents from taking in the stray animals. She ultimately helps save humans and animals alike when she and her loved ones are under a constant threat of Allied bombings in Hamburg. Meanwhile, disfigured World War I veteran Rudy Von Silvren is a spy working with Simon. He met Cat when she was a young girl, but she only knows him as the Shadow, the enigmatic man who watches and protects her. McGinnis’ epic tale alternates first-person narration between Rudy and, predominantly, Cat, who’s a formidable protagonist. When she coolly stands up to rude, arrogant SS officers at a dance hall, Simon is surprised as Cat debunks the stereotype of “compliant” female spy. She further displays strength as a maternal figure to a feline mother and her four kittens, for whom Cat cares deeply. The author allows romance for Cat, who falls for Ben Robie, an American,and she may have similar feelings for Simon. But the book overall is uncompromising: Cat experiences a great deal of loss, and, accommodating the historical time period, her situation becomes increasingly dire. Throughout the absorbing story, McGinnis’ prose is relentlessly sharp: “We were the inmates, the citizens, of Dante’s Inferno. We were the undead, the Nosferatu.”
An engrossing war tale in which real-world events remain as riveting as the tenacious fictional protagonist.