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[210] The German Woman – Paul Griner


With the Germans suspecting I work for the English, and the English suspecting I work for the Germans? I don’t want to live my life worried what will happen. I did that for far too long, so now, who cares?[285]

During World War I, in East Prussia, the Russians have mistaken Kate and her husband Horst, a surgeon whose German descent had brought about his exile from England, as spies. By fluke an enemy whom they treated at the clinic takes them across the line to the German zone. For fifteen years, life in Berlin, then Hamburg, Kate, takes care of Horst who has lost his vision surviving a bombing. The scenes of civilian life—the continual, frantic hunt for food, the meagerness of commodities, the morose insistence on imagining the worst—evokes Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Francaise. Lawlessness and self-extermination seem to be the only choices. Kate Zweig, an Englishwoman by nature, nourishes an aversion toward England which she believes is responsible for bringing war to the civilians.

Hitler is evil . . . But rational Germans supported him because they starved under the republic, thanks to the French and the Poles and the English. Even the English soldiers were appalled by what the postwar blockade did . . . That’s the problem, isn’t it? To kill Nazi’s you must kill Germans too. That the war is justified doesn’t justify everything in it. [103]

In 1944, Charles Murphy, arraigned for treason, jailed for making anti-England films and exiled from America some 30 years ago, makes London home. During Nazi’s V1 reign of terror, under his German name Claus, he makes propaganda films by day and works as a spy for the British Ministry of Information after dark. The Germans are foolishly quick to believe his intelligence. Instructed to develop other agents throughout England for corroboration, Claus makes up most of his contacts, which explains his scouting and collecting mundane details of civilian life. When Claus and Kate meet, her experience in life, the layered past, immediately becomes the source of his film as well as the characterization of his fake contacts. But he also has doubt that she might be a German spy.

Had all of her touching emotional moments been manufactured earlier, to be produced at the proper time, or, worse, was she merely a wonderfully intuitive actress who understood what was necessary in every scene and could unearth it? [281]

The cleverness of The German Woman, despite the initial build-up of obscure factual information on the war, is this somewhat contrived fogging up of necessary details that obstruct reader’s clear perception of who Kate and Claus are. As alliance changes, so does one’s warrant of safety. What Kate and Claus had experienced in the first world war, in which they were both betrayed by their countries, becomes significant in their choice of alliance in the second world war. Beaten by war, they fall in love fraught with doubt. Evokes from this affair that is suppressed under the weight of uncontrollable events is that nationality can be out of favor. What matters is the human cause because on a human scale nothing is out of bounds. Griner’s historical details can be as obfuscating as Ondaatje’s prose. Espionage is wittily used to evoke issues of love, patriotism and identity.

308 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] Paul Griner is the author of the acclaimed novel Collectors and the story collection Follow Me. The German Woman was partly inspired by the true story of a team of American filmmakers who were tired for treason just after the United States entered World War I for making a film critical of the British.

17 Responses

  1. Very intricate book with many layers to get through. That’s why I love reading your reviews…you bring this story to life with such vivid descriptions…thank you!

  2. This book sounds great – I need to look for it for the War Through the Generations challenge. Thanks for the review.

  3. Hmm. As interesting as this does sound (and indeed it sounds interesting), something about the writing just doesn’t appeal to me… it feels a little off. Still, the plot sounds like it might carry the story well enough. The writing may turn out to be nothing more than a minor point.

  4. I seem to be on a fictional novels with a historical component kick. This seems really cool! I’m not sure why I haven’t heard of it before!

  5. Staci:
    I thought it would a page-turning thriller. Thriller that it is, but the layers make it an effort to read.

  6. bermudaonion:
    Oh this would makes a good war read, easy. 🙂

  7. Biblibio:
    The writing is really not so bad, although it’s nothing like Onaadjte. 🙂

  8. lena:
    It’s just released last week. It’s available in hardback only for now. But eye an eye on this one. 🙂

  9. I’m going to keep this one on my radar. I like the “thriller” aspect of it. I’ve been reading quite a few books set during WWII though so it may have to wait for a while.

  10. iliana:
    Oh you’ll be thrilled for sure. It’s spy story after all. But the historical facts are somewhat muddling. Takes a bit of an effort to clarify.

  11. This sounds good! I’ve got it checked out from the library at the moment and hope I can get it read before it’s due back!

  12. Danielle:
    I had you in mind when I was reading this book, because that it’s a literary thriller during the wars suit your taste. 🙂

  13. […] The German Woman, Paul Griner (Review copy from a friend K) […]

  14. This sounds right up my alley! I hope it’s okay that I linked to your review on War Through the Generations.


  15. Ну просто каждый пост у вас шедевр, просто дух захватывает в каждой статье, вам бы ещё пару блогов открыть не мешало!

  16. Пощелкал по рекламе. спасибо за пост

  17. This book be the best little-known book of the last five years. It is absorbing not only in its story line, but in Griner’s superb description of wartime Poland and, later, London. First rate.

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