The German wife by Kelly Rimmer
References are at the heart of Rimmer’s powerful and challenging historical novel, and these take us into the different worlds of Lizzie and Sofie, the two protagonists in this story, placing us initially in the United States in 1950, in Lizzie’s story, and in Europe with Sophie. Each chapter is focussed on one of the two characters, Rimmer varying the placement and focus throughout the novel. We are drawn deeply into their lives, particularly in the vastly different worlds, the challenging times and events that both women face. The story of Lizzie, in the USA, is included as indicative of the suffering of the poorer people at that time, particularly if they had no working male partner, or little in the way of family support. This is part of the whole narrative, and revelatory of that time.
We are drawn deeply into the world where ‘invaders’ in Germany attacked the homes and stole many of the belongings of the Jewish families, ironically often fighting over what they stole. We read about those who attacked many homes with planned terror attacks in Berlin, poisoning the local water, and claiming the need for ‘racial purity’. Clearly, as they became more vicious in their attacks, the SS smashed the homes, chasing the mothers and children often, and either leaving the people homeless or placing them in prisons. We learn that hundreds of Jews were attacked, many murdered, and many suicided. Gradually the Nazi Party brought in new legislation, which enabled them to ‘enshrine in law without Parliament’s approval”, that they could take Jewish people from their homes and workplaces and murder many of them. When tens of thousands were arrested, imprisoned or simply killed, this was the key that changed the world for Jews in Europe. When Germany invaded Poland, claiming that it was in self-defence, many Jews were killed or imprisoned, and many murdered as time went on.
Sofie travels to meet her husband, Jurgen, whom she had not seen for 5 years. Thinking that she would be safe, Sofie is astounded at the racial/religious discrimination that she faces in the US, noting even the discriminatory practices in the southern states, particularly focussing on the bans on coloured people banned from access to many of the shops. The difficulties faced in the US, post-war, are outlined throughout this narrative, particularly the poverty, discrimination, and the difficulty of women in finding work that pays sufficiently well to survive. Choosing to move, Lizzie’s life changes completely, and, having little, Lizzie must find work, somewhere to live, and to start her life again.
This book is suitable for adolescent and adult reading.
Themes: Nazism, Scientists, World War 11, Germans in the United States.