Hannah Sterling wants to understand why her mother didn't love her or her father or anyone. But as a German woman - a Jewish sympathizer - who survived WWII, Lieselotte Sommer had many secrets that she kept, not the least from her own daughter. After her death, Hannah goes on a journey to discover who her mother was, only to discover secrets that will shake the very foundations of what she thought was true about her life.
The story alternates perspective each chapter, daughter, mother, daughter, mother. Despite Hannah's anger at her unfeeling mother, by the end of chapter two I was fully Lieselotte's side - what happened to her to steal the love, joy, and hope from her? To make her into someone who was unable to show emotion to her own flesh and blood? While much of Lieselotte's story is revealed from her own viewpoint, I like that Hannah, on her quest, makes discoveries that Lieselotte didn't necessarily know.
I like the different perspective of this story - the "modern" story of the daughter takes place in the '70's, a time not often explored in literature. But more importantly, it provides the chance to explore how Germany had changed - and not changed - in the three decades following what will likely always be known as the most heinous crime of history. The regrets people held for what they did or did not do, the things that others never regretted, in spite of choices of "unthinkable opportunistic evil." The secrets each and every person kept.
It's a book of contradictions, yet the contradictions are true. The best-kept secrets can still be made known. Even people who have done unspeakable things can be loving and loved. People you love can do unspeakable things. And even the most loving, forgiving people sometimes need supernatural help to extend forgiveness.
There are a lot of excellent WWII novels out there, and some of the most profound fiction I've read focuses on that war. This book ranks with the best of them - definitely worthy of the 2016 Christy Award for historical fiction! 5 out of 5 stars!
Thank you Tyndale House and NetGalley for providing an e-copy for review. I was not required to make the review positive, and all opinions are my own.
If you've liked any of the following novels, then I highly recommend reading Secrets She Kept. Or if you like this one, then I highly recommend the following novels as well. Each exemplifies a well-told story, profound truths, and incredible attention to WWII history:
Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke
Thief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer
The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron
A Sparrow in Terezin by Kristy Cambron