I was given an E-book of this novel in exchange for a fair review. Many thanks to Netgalley and the Publisher for the opportunity to do so.
Surviving the Fatherland: A True Coming-of-age Love Story Set in WWII Germany by Annette Oppenlander is a true story written about Oppenlander’s parents, Günter and Lilly. Both of her parents grew up during World War II and this showcases their struggle through both Hitler’s Regime and Post-war Germany.
Oppenlander’s ability to explore her parent’s past is remarkable. Showing both the bad and good things they did without sugar coating things to make her parents, and grandparents, seem like better people than they were. They were humanized through their faults and mistakes which made the novel read more like a historical fiction novel than a nonfiction novel. I truly forgot that it was a nonfiction book while reading it and only remembered when i got to the last 50 or so pages. Her ability to connect you to the characters also makes you want to read the snippets that she added to the back about what the characters are doing now. Which I also highly appreciated knowing about instead of their memory disappearing during their 20’s.
I appreciated that Oppenlander focused more on Post-war Germany instead of the time period of Hitler’s Regime. The Holocaust is important but many people at least have a general knowledge about concentration camps and Germany’s economic struggles. Often, however, it is assumed that Germany was fine after WWII ended, but this is not the case. It took many years for the economy to recover. Both Günter and Lilly struggle to find food and survive. Which is only different from during the war because Günter could be at home and not hiding from the Military so that he could avoid joining Hitler’s Army and parishing with the rest of his classmates.
Curiously, there were somethings that were changed that could add some confusion as to how much of the novel is fact and what is fiction. Oppenlander adds in two fictional characters Herr Baum and Karl Huss. Both of these characters appear often in the novel itself. Oppenlander does state this in the Gallery of Characters at the back of the book and are based in some fact, but it does seem strange to put fictional characters in a nonfiction novel. Oppenlander does change a few names in the novel but she does this for clarity as both Lilly and Gerda’s real names are Helga. This makes sense to me to do as they are often together and this would become confusing to read, but I still have a hard time with making up characters.
While the topic of this novel is a heavy one Oppenlander shows glimmers of hope through the friendships created and the love story that ultimately comes into fruition. I found myself hoping that Günter, Lilly, Helmut and Gerda had happy endings in a time where happy ending are few and far between. While she offers up hope she also shows heartbreak, with Günter’s difficulty to cope after the war was over and the economy finally took an upswing. With Lilly’s mother’s favoritism and her father and mother’s relationship. She combines the two beautifully, allowing the reader to have a full range of emotion in such a depressing time period, which makes for the novel to be not as emotionally taxing as WWII novels tend to be.
I really enjoyed Surviving the Fatherland, and I’m glad that I was able to read it. I would recommend this specifically for people who don’t know what Post-war Germany was like and those who want to learn about it. This novel is also good for people who usually enjoy Historical Fiction as this novel is not fact heavy and reads very much like a fiction novel.