Blanton’s (A God Who Believes in Me, 2014, etc.) historical novel follows a German Protestant man from his student days to his command of a Nazi U-boat.
Luther Weitgucker, a boy from a middle-class Lutheran family, is raised in Dresden, Germany, during the interwar years. Although he’s not devoutly religious, he’s firmly rooted in his Christian upbringing and deeply inspired by the Beatitudes. An ambitious young man, he’s also heavily involved in academics and sports. He goes away to college in Bonn where, after a few youthful adventures with women and alcohol, he buckles down and receives a medical degree. Although Luther is opposed to Nazism on ethical and religious grounds, his primary focus is his own future, so he does his best to ignore the growing fascist movement. But when his private medical practice proves insufficient to support his wife and three young sons in the economic and political climate of the late 1930s, he joins the German navy, the Kriegsmarine, and becomes a U-boat officer. The sections that focus on Luther’s personal life ably render the details of his experiences and development, but they often awkwardly toss in historical context using simplistic expository passages. Likewise, Luther’s positive interactions with various token characters, including a disabled neighbor, a Jewish friend, a gay friend, and a Roma lover, display a lack of nuance. However, Blanton does a stronger job of showing how even “good Germans” who weren’t pro-Nazi still contributed to Nazism with their complacency. For example, Luther and his young bride move into their first home as a married couple after their fathers purchase the house cheaply from fleeing Jewish neighbors. At another point, Luther finds himself saying to his wife: “Maybe the Nazis won’t be as bad as we first feared.” As the war progresses, however, Luther’s official duties and growing personal faith—influenced by the contemporary dissident and Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer—increasingly come into conflict. It is this personal spiritual journey, more than the portrayal of history, that will connect with readers, making this ultimately a novel about personal faith.
Readable, sometimes-insightful fiction about the conflict between duty and religion.