Title: Prisoner of Night and Fog
Author: Anne Blankman
No. of Pages: 416
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction
Origins: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: 22 April 2014
Bottom Line: Fascinating insider’s look at the early Nazi party
“In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her uncle Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.
Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler.
And Gretchen follows his every command.
Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews.
As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?
From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she’s ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.”
Thoughts: Ever since Hitler’s full atrocities become known throughout the world, the question of how an entire country could blindly follow one madman persists. Prisoner of Night and Fog uses original sources and other careful research to show how it happened through Gretchen’s front-row view of his growing power. It is a book as chilling as it is relevant, as history always finds a way to repeat itself no matter how diligent society is in trying to prevent it.
There may be some readers who believe Gretchen to be naïve and weak because she blindly follows Hitler’s pronouncements about the Jewish populace being diseased non-humans and buys into the propaganda about a supreme race. It takes no stretch of the imagination, however, to realize that Gretchen symbolizes the entire country, and that nothing is quite as simple as it seems. It is a brilliant ploy by Ms. Blankman to get readers to understand Gretchen’s world before she draws aside the curtains and starts showing the true man behind the podium. Her family’s total reliance on the National Socialist Party is the only thing preventing them from succumbing to abject poverty. Their need to believe in a future powerful and restored country is the one thing keeping their hopes alive when life is at its grimmest. Hitler gives the Müller family courage to keep surviving when the end of World War I and the ensuing depression all but decimated them. Most importantly, he gave them someone to blame for all of their problems. Through Gretchen’s growing realization of the truth, readers get a crystal-clear understanding of the vulnerabilities of the German people and how easy it was for Hitler to manipulate them to follow his every lead. It is both frightening and fascinating.
Similarly, Daniel Cohen and other characters are Ms. Blankman’s answer to the criticism that no one did anything to try to stop Hitler’s rise to power and subsequent genocide. Through Daniel and his fellow journalists, as well as the political upheaval throughout all of Munich in the 1930s, readers see people who were desperately trying to make a difference, to open the eyes of the general populace and get them to see the truth. The fact that Ms. Blankman models Daniel after a real journalist from the time and his actual newspaper really drives home the point that there were people who tried to stop Hitler’s momentum. Unfortunately, Daniel also shows readers how little power one man had against the National Socialist machine.
Within Prisoner of Night and Fog there are some truly interesting debates on mental illness, psychological profiles and generic human behaviors. Psychology is just beginning to become a recognized field of study, and Ms. Blankman takes advantage of that to educate both Gretchen and the reader about various mental illnesses and behavioral disorders. The attempt to label Hitler is particularly mesmerizing because his erratic behaviors defy any one definition.
The lessons to be learned from Hitler’s rise to power are just as important now as they were after the end of World War II, and Prisoner of Night and Fog makes sure that readers continue to guard against similar situations. Ms. Blankman’s research is thorough and precise, and it shows in her narrative. Her insertion of fictional characters into the real-life historical situations is seamless, making it easy to forget that the novel is ultimately a work of fiction, albeit heavily based in historical fact. Gretchen is a fully-realized character that blends so well within Hitler’s network of friends and acquaintances, but her doubts and inability to act on them without endangering her entire family drives home the point of just how thorough Hitler was in stirring up nationalist sentiment. It also shows how compelling he really was and how hypnotizing his speeches could be. Prisoner of Night and Fog is one of the better imaginings of Hitler’s rise to power and a fabulous glimpse into depression-era Germany.