This is one of those books about which I could (and will) register complaints, and yet I still enjoyed reading it.
Present day Philadelphia public defender Charlotte Gold takes leave from her job helping juveniles to take on the defense of Roger Dykmans, an octogenarian in Germany charged as a war criminal for having collaborated with the Nazis. His alleged betrayal resulted in the death of his brother Hans as well as the many Jews Hans was trying to save. Charlotte is talked into the venture by her ex-boyfriend Brian, not realizing that, in Germany, she will be working with Brian’s estranged brother Jack.
As the story weaves back and forth in time, we learn what really happened with Roger and Hans, as we also watch the growing attraction between Charlotte and Jack. And tying together the two strands is the story of an old anniversary clock, passed down through the generations, and holding the key to critical events in the lives of the protagonists.
Discussion: I liked this book and sped right through it. But it’s not as polished as I hoped. The parallel love stories that take place in the past and the present, and the heirloom that passes along through the generations and draws the characters together are both overused plot devices. And neither one is developed in a way innovative enough to justify yet another rendition.
A lot of the background information given on the Holocaust is delivered didactically, and should have been more smoothly integrated into the story.
Some of the characters are improbably or irritatingly clueless in matters of the heart. In addition, Brian and Jack, both supposedly top-flight lawyers, often seem like amateurs, especially with respect to dealing with witnesses and evidence.
Last but not least, the outcome is as predictable as could be.
So why did I like it? Even a hackneyed plot is enough for me in a story that (a) deals with the moral complexities of war crimes; (b) features legal procedural elements; (c) includes a romance; and (d) has some nuance in at least some of the characters. But more than that: war adds poignancy and drama to stories; it provides swelling background music. It lends life or death urgency to the most mundane activities. The farther we are from the actual impact of fighting and death, the more we find war to be romantic. And even if it is close to us, we know that no other experience in life can match it for intensity. Thus the most overused ideas can be immeasurably enhanced, and we may even superimpose our own knowledge of the setting to reinforce that which is provided by the author.
Do I recommend this book? Yes – not super-enthusiastically, but yes, nevertheless! It’s a quite readable story that incorporates a lot of information about the Holocaust, especially about what it was like to live in Germany during WWII.
Published by Doubleday, 2011