In 1980s East Germany, where everyone is always watching, all Lena Altmann wants to do is disappear.
After her parents die in a factory accident, Lena has a nervous breakdown, drops out of high school, and is taken in by her Aunt Adelheid, the widow of a high-ranking member of the Communist Party. Auntie does her best to take care of Lena, securing her a coveted position as a night janitor at the headquarters of the Stasi, or secret police. Although she knows she should be grateful, Lena hates the job, not only because it makes people fear her, but also because an officer she nicknames Herr Dreck (Mr. Filth) sexually assaults her in his office every night. The only person who makes Lena happy is her Uncle Erich, a writer. When he disappears, a devastated Lena knows she must risk everything to find out what really happened to him. The narrative pulses with suspense due to a skillfully rendered cast of characters that are repeatedly forced to choose between preserving their humanity or their lives. The rich historical details plunge readers into a chillingly realistic world where it is impossible for citizens to trust each other and in which Lena struggles with mental illness, sexual assault, and grief.
A stunning and compassionate portrait of a young woman fighting to retain her sense of self under a repressive regime. (Historical fiction. 16-adult)