I was sent a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Blurb: Leipzig, 1930s Germany. Hetty Heinrich is a perfect German child. Her father is an SS officer, her brother in the Luftwaffe, herself a member of the BDM. She believes resolutely in her country, and the man who runs it. Until Walter changes everything. Blond-haired, blue-eyed, perfect in every way Walter. The boy who saved her life. A Jew. Anti-semitism is growing by the day, and neighbours, friends and family members are turning on one another. As Hetty falls deeper in love with a man who is against all she has been taught, she begins to fight against her country, her family and herself. Hetty will have to risk everything to save Walter, even if it means sacrificing herself…
Title: People Like Us
Author: Louise Fein
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Romance
This story follows young Hetty, perfect German girl, during Hitler’s rise to power where everything about her average life changes. What changes the most are her feelings for Walter, once her older brother’s best friend, who just so happens to be Jewish.
I’m always skeptical with books that portray romance between a Nazi and a Jew during this historical period, but this story is a stand out for me in the sense that it felt so much more genuine than any I’d read before. First off, both Hetty and Walter are young teenagers and we are spared the cliched ‘Nazi takes pity on a Jew storyline’ – this story is about so much more than that. It’s childhood love, blossoming social awareness and the youthful drive to right the wrongs of the world. The tenderness between the two main characters really leaps out of the story and opens our eyes to the stories of those who lost their loves, through a variety of ways, during this time.
The writing of this story is so beautiful and serves as a reminder to us readers that love, at its heart, is pure and should be able to be given freely, without consequence or persecution. The characters are all three dimensional with no one sticking to the stereotypes but rather having multi faceted personalities – Hetty who is so torn between the Nazi ideology she is taught and the love she feels for a boy who can’t possibly be as bad as people say; her parents who play the part of perfect Nazi’s, obeying Hitler’s every order yet still show rare moments of compassion for the daughter they raised. The story spans ten years (1929-1939), with a brief mention of 1994 in the epilogue, yet moves at a good pace. We are able to see a lot of the character’s lives, how they change and evolve but also how the world around them does too. This allows us to grow attached to the characters, keeping our fingers crossed that they find some peace and really drawing you into the world.
It will come as no surprise that this book made me particularly emotional. I won’t give spoilers but at several points my heart broke for Hetty and Walter and their circumstances and the epilogue stayed with me for days, keeping me up at night with thoughts of just how unfair life can be.
I also want to note that Fein has obviously dispensed a lot of care and compassion into the writing of this novel, basing Walter and his family on her own family, particularly that of her parents’ experiences (all discussed in the author’s note). Fein states in her author’s note that “a good book can reach out and pull a reader into a world they know nothing about. It can emotionally engage in a way that facts and news often cannot.” This, in essence, is why I will continue to read and recommend books set during this time period, telling stories of those who were persecuted, as long as they have been written with care.
As for what I disliked, there is nothing that I can pick out. I can sympathise that this book might not be for everyone due to the subject matter, even though I feel as though it’s not the typically harmful cliche, so could appreciate why someone would give it a miss.
Overall, I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed books like The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris, or is interested in an emotional read that really gives food for thought about standing up for those we love and ensuring that no one is persecuted for simply being themselves.
Have you read this book? Or maybe you’ve read something similar? What did you think? I’d love to know!