Set in Berlin as World War I is nearing the ultimate, shameful defeat of Germany, the story 16-year-old Moritz narrates reveals the causes of the next great war.
By 1918, conditions in Germany, especially for civilians, were brutal: starvation, lack of essential goods, war-wounded on every street, dead soldiers from every family. Working-class Moritz is an apprentice printer taking the place of his father, who was killed at the front. His older brother, Hans, lost part of an arm and an eye fighting for his homeland and has become a morphine addict and street bully. In him, readers see the incipient Nazi as he and others attack an old Jewish man and he adopts of the creed of German vengeance. The slow unfolding of conditions and characters forces readers to see a full portrait of the then present and the soon future. Moritz meets Rebecca, daughter of a Jewish bookseller, and through her and her companions becomes involved in the politics of the Social Democrats. Here the book becomes somewhat preachy, as various political philosophies are presented. An author's note at the end of the book fills in historical details and names; it would be wise to read this before starting this gripping, active novel."War gives meaning to some men's lives. For other men, the experience of war extinguishes all meaning in life," says a man who becomes Moritz's mentor; Schröder makes this sad and ever-timely lesson all too clear. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)