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Historical Novel Society Reviews

Date: May 6 2014

In hindsight, we know that no sane person, Jewish or otherwise, would try to ride it out in pre-war Paris and Berlin. But that’s why hindsight is 20-20. American journalist Rose Manon, who writes as R.B. Manon, lives in Paris and then Berlin as Hitler is rising to power. She’s half-Jewish, a fact that doesn’t unduly bother her as her Jewish mother didn’t raise her in that faith. But, her Jewishness matters very much to those in power, something she fails to comprehend until it’s almost too late.

Zackheim makes the reader understand why Rose would not want to leave. She’s given freedom to report on stories that matter to her; she has a network of friends, and has fallen in love with a Jewish artist. With each passage of time, fresh atrocities surface that tighten the noose around her world. Her lover is held under house arrest due to his artistic skills (translation: he can stencil swastikas on silver); her mixed race friends’ children are forcibly sterilized; and her cold, unloving mother finds her, drops the bomb that her adored alcoholic father is dead, and then forces Rose to chose between her family and her love.

We know that Rose survives – her story is framed as the memories of an old woman living in New York State – but at the price of much she held dear. Endless red tape and hostile occupiers mean her American citizenship counts for very little. From the 21st century, I begged Rose to get home, but for those who lived it, who thought that a population could be so cruel and inhumane?

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