Berlin’s transformation was complete — as though a long siege had been lifted. The streets were colourful and welcoming, with garlands hanging from every lamppost and shop front along the Leipzigerstrasse. The Olympic rings billowed from the flagpoles of the Wertheim department store, and the JEWS NOT WANTED signs had disappeared from shops, cafés, and parks.
With the state’s sadism hidden from view, the Reich Labour Front had ordered a week of ‘jollity and cheerfulness’ prior to the Games, fearing that foreign visitors might be disheartened by the Berliner Schnauze — the surly local manner. Only in a tyranny, Denham thought, are citizens ordered to be happy.
(from Flight From Berlin, page 85 in the uncorrected proof; finished version may be different)
I’m taking it easy blogging-wise for the rest of the summer since I’ve been too busy to keep up with my reading, but I am so glad that I finished David John’s new novel Flight From Berlin in time for the start of the 2012 Olympics. Set during the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, the novel is a fast-paced thriller complete with espionage, a little romance, and of course, sinister Nazis.
Flight From Berlin centers on two characters: Eleanor Emerson, an American swimmer and senator’s daughter who ignores her father’s concerns about Nazi politics and decides to participate in the Games, and Richard Denham, an English reporter living in Berlin whose interest in a Jewish fencer forced to compete for Germany in order to protect her family gets him into some hot water with the Gestapo. Eleanor and Richard’s paths cross after Eleanor is kicked off the Olympic team and lands a position as a columnist at the Games due to her connections.
Without saying too much, Richard and eventually Eleanor get pulled into a scheme by the British Secret Intelligence Service to obtain a dossier on Hitler, whose surprising rise to power has many concerned. This scheme puts them in the path of Reinhard Heydrich of the SD, known as Heydrich the Hangman; involves Martha Dodd, whose father was the U.S. ambassador to Germany; and eventually gets them seats on the doomed Hindenburg.
Flight From Berlin is a quick read with plenty of drama and action that kept me reading well past my bedtime. There was a lot going on, but John did a good job connecting all the plot threads, and even though he changes historical facts here and there to suit the story, he made it all seem believable. I especially liked that there was an author’s note and a list of historical characters at the end to help readers separate the fact from the fiction.
I really enjoyed Flight From Berlin, but I wanted to love it. I loved Eleanor, her outspokenness, her conviction, and her strength, but once she and Richard join forces, she fades a little into the background. Moreover, even though I can understand why the Nazis wouldn’t want the information in the dossier to be leaked, I really didn’t find its contents to be shocking. Maybe I’ve watched too many documentaries on Hitler and the Third Reich? I actually found the story about the Jewish fencer to be most interesting and a foreshadowing of what the Nazis would undertake in a few short years.
Even so, the novel kept me on the edge of my seat, especially when the characters ended up on the Hindenburg. The transformation of Berlin to put on a happy face for the Olympics also was fascinating, along with the possible Nazi influence on the head of the American Olympic Committee and his sidelining of some American athletes. Flight From Berlin is an exciting novel that shows the ugly side of the Third Reich and hints at the horrid events to come, while also highlighting the selflessness exhibited by members of resistance groups and the inner strength of those being persecuted. Its fast pace balanced out the heaviness and made it a perfect book for summer reading.
© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.