Inge’s War by Svenja O’Donnell

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Published: August 6th, 2020
Publisher: Ebury
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Biography, Autobiography

I’m thrilled to be opening the blog tour for this absorbing and powerful novel. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and Ebury and NetGalley for the gifted eBook ARC.

SYNOPSIS:

‘A lyrical, engrossing and essential read’ – Sathnam Sanghera

‘A superbly nuanced reclamation of history and family secrets’ – Brian Van Reet, author of Spoils

What does it mean to be on the wrong side of history?

Svenja O’Donnell’s beautiful, aloof grandmother Inge never spoke about the past. All her family knew was that she had grown up in a city that no longer exists on any map: Königsberg in East Prussia, a footnote in history, a place that almost no one has heard of today. But when Svenja impulsively visits this windswept Baltic city, something unlocks in Inge and, finally, she begins to tell her story.

It begins in the secret jazz bars of Hitler’s Berlin. It is a story of passionate first love, betrayal, terror, flight, starvation and violence. As Svenja teases out the threads of her grandmother’s life, retracing her steps all over Europe, she realises that there is suffering here on a scale that she had never dreamt of. And finally, she uncovers a desperately tragic secret that her grandmother has been keeping for sixty years.

Inge’s War listens to the voices that are often missing from our historical narrative – those of women caught up on the wrong side of history. It is a book about memory and heritage that interrogates the legacy passed down by those who survive. It also poses the questions: who do we allow to tell their story? What do we mean by family? And what will we do in order to survive?

MY REVIEW:

“A secret lay at my family’s heart, unspoken, undisturbed, unsuspected, for decades. I never set out purposefully to unearth it; I was in the middle of my journey before I knew it had even begun.”

Past and present are woven together to tell this poignant story of love, loss, endurance, survival, and long-held family secrets.

Svenja’s aloof grandmother Inge has always refused to talk about her experiences living in East Prussia during the war. But when Svenja spontaneously visits the city after a recent heartbreak, the women bond over shared pain and Inge finally begins to tell her story. What follows is a narrative rarely heard when we listen to the voices of those who lived during the war; those everyday people who weren’t a victim, hero or villain, but simply trying to survive a dark and deadly moment in history.

“But with every war comes layers of suffering, and only by acknowledging it all can we stop hatred from tearing people apart.” 

True stories are a favourite genre of mine, and the holocaust is an era I’ve always found interesting, so I knew immediately upon reading the synopsis that I wanted to read this book. Inge’s War is a thought-provoking story of ordinary people and ordinary problems in extraordinary times. It tells of a love story cut short by war, and gives a voice to one of the many rarely heard in the narrative of the holocaust: a German who was neither Nazi or rebel. It is also a reminder that surviving war is a lottery of luck.

“When I first began asking about the past, I had hoped for anecdotes of making do, of triumph over hardship. I had feared I might find proof of actions or beliefs that I would struggle to forgive. I had not bargained for this uglier truth… In my dogged search for answers, I had forgotten to ask myself whether some truths were best left alone. “

Lyrical, absorbing and painstakingly researched, it is wonderfully written. The author’s journalistic experience shines through as she envelopes you in her family’s world, breathing heart and soul into a book that simultaneously educates. She tells the story of Inge’s youth, the revelation of decades-old family secrets, examines how much ordinary German’s really knew about the final solution and how their silence and inaction impacted events.

Immersive, enthralling, harrowing, moving and heart-felt, Inge’s War is a book that needs to be read and experienced. An absolute must-read that will stay with you.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

Svenja O Donnell Author Pic

MEET THE AUTHOR:

Svenja O’Donnell is an award-winning political correspondent and commentator whose work regularly features on TV and radio. Before covering Brexit for Bloomberg, she worked as a correspondent in Russia. Half-Irish and half-German, she was born and brought up in Paris, and lives in London. Inge’s War is her first book.

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