Berliners is the story of a family scarred by war, politics, and false ideology in postwar Germany.
*Berliners by Vesper Stamper. Knopf, 2022, 413 pages.
Reading Level: Teen, ages 15-18
Recommended for: ages 16-up
A family divided
Though they are twins, Rudi and Peter Moser-Fleishchman do not resemble each other in appearance or personality. Peter is the golden one, blonde and good-looking and talented, with theater ambitions. Rudi is short, blunt, and earnest, especially regarding the Marxist ideals of East Berlin, where they reside with their parents and paternal grandmother (Oma). Both boys lead their local chapter of the FDJ, or Free German Youth, the Deutschland version of Russia’s Young Pioneers. Postwar Berlin is climbing up out of the wreckage of World War II, though the twins’ father, Rudolph, occasionally mentions that West Berlin is climbing a lot faster. He wanted to settle there back when it was known as “the American sector,” but Ilse, his wife, seems to prefer where they are. Although lately it’s difficult to tell just what Ilse prefers. Her behavior has become more erratic, her flares of temper more frequent.
Undercurrents of guilt and trauma flow beneath the surface of this normal German family. The parents are deeply scarred by the War, by what they did and didn’t do, and Rudi and Peter are both victims and perpetrators of postwar sins. Tensions are coming to a head in East Berlin as Communism tightens its grip on the populace. Travel between East and West is looked upon with greater suspicion and family members grow more suspicious of each other. The brothers reflect the conflicts in their own relationship, their spiritual separation growing until they are physically separated by the ugly wall that goes up literally overnight.
Live not by lies
Berliners begins with the famous quote from Alexander Solzhenitsyn about the line between good and evil passing “not through states, nor between classes, nor between pollical parties either, but right through every human heart.” Like all great fiction, though, it shows rather than tells how evil is manifested in ordinary people. The story isn’t as grim as it may seem: there’s humor and bantering and genuine emotional connection—also hope, because light does shine in darkness. “If you live in truth, they cannot affect you with their lies.”
Don’t miss the Author’s Note at the end, reflecting on the “crisis of reality” we’re in and offering an explanation of how we got here. The totalitarianism of Marxism has given way, in the Western world, to the totalitarianism of “opportunists with ready-made solutions to vastly complicated problems” who aim to suppress all dissent for the common good. Whatever the cost, it’s up to each of us to seek the truth (rather than “our” truth) and hold fast to it.
There’s some mild cursing (particularly with the twins’ salty Oma) and a few vulgar words.
Overall rating: 4.75
Worldview/moral value: 4.5
Artistic/literary value: 5
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Also at Redeemed Reader:
Reviews: Postwar Berlin and the infamous Wall is the subject of A Night Divided (for middle-graders) and Walls (for teens).
Resource: See our 20th Century Booklist for teens.
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