Grant (Year of the Rat, 2011, etc.) weaves a well-researched, fictionalized account of what it was like being a victim of Hitler’s eugenics campaign.
This novel focuses on Finnish twins Kaarle and Laila Tuuri, whose mother, Aamu, dies during their birth. With their fair skin, blond hair, and blue eyes, the twins are visions of Aryan perfection. Their father, Ahti, has no idea how to raise a girl, so he sends Laila off to live with her aunt in Norway. Her father has Kaarle trained to become one of Finland’s famed ski soldiers, and he spends much of the war harassing first the Russians, then the Germans. Laila isn’t as lucky: she gets captured by the Nazis and is chosen as a guinea pig for Mengele’s eugenics experiments. Throughout the novel, Kaarle seeks to recover his extended family while lending his military expertise to the fight against the Axis, wherever they may be. Grant impressively details conditions at the concentration camps and the eugenics labs, painting a true portrait of what was happening in the conquered territories: “Now that Nordic populations have fallen before the SS,” a Norwegian geneticist muses, “Lebensborn can emerge as an involuntary assembly line until the Aryan empire is complete.” The big blocks of text are sometimes tough to navigate, but the narrative doesn’t overwhelm readers with technical descriptions. While making clear the pain these victims experience, Grant artfully gives faces to the depraved victims of the Nazi juggernaut fueled by a madman’s dream. As a rabbi in a concentration camp explains, “In a mere month you will see brothers and sisters agreeing to become spies against each other for an extra ladle of soup each day.”
A meticulous, sometimes-brutal look back at a terrible time.