A gripping historical thriller set in 1930s Munich, Prisoner of Night and Fog is the evocative story of an ordinary girl faced with an extraordinary choice in Hitler's Germany. Fans of Code Name Verity will love this novel full of romance, danger, and intrigue! Gretchen Müller grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her uncle Dolf—who has kept her family cherished and protected from the darker side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf's. But Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler. And Gretchen follows his every command. When she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen who claims that her father was actually murdered by an unknown comrade, Gretchen doesn't know what to believe. She soon discovers that beyond her sheltered view lies a world full of shadowy secrets and disturbing violence. As Gretchen's investigations lead her to question the motives and loyalties of her dearest friends and her closest family, she must determine her own allegiances—even if her choices could get her and Daniel killed.
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I needn’t have worried. While, yes, protagonist Gretchen Müller is very fond of Hitler when we meet her, referring to him as Uncle Dolf, I found PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG very thoughtful in its approach to her beliefs and her interactions with the infamous Führer. I could see how this young, intelligent girl would have been won over by Hitler’s charisma and propaganda. It was clear a lot of care had been put into Hitler’s portrayal, and Gretchen’s perception of him, and I found it extremely believable.
It was chilling to see characters that truly seemed like good people embrace Hitler’s horrifying ideals. Some of the Nazi characters in this book were, indeed, monsters, but many were otherwise decent folk who didn’t seem to see how wrong their beliefs and actions truly were. One by one, they all turn against Gretchen when they realize she’s pulling away from the Party, in a series of events that becomes more and more terrifying as Gretchen sees how deep Hitler’s poison has sunk into the hearts of her German friends and neighbors. Watching as Gretchen slowly has the wool pulled from her eyes was both compelling and heartbreaking, especially when I considered that this story takes place before World War II, which meant opposing Hitler would only become more difficult for Gretchen.
The murder plot is exciting, but I have to admit, it wasn’t much of a mystery. The reveals that shocked Gretchen I found somewhat predictable, but I didn’t mind, because I wasn’t really reading to learn who killed Gretchen’s father. The answer was interesting — and tied brilliantly into a real historical event — but the aspect of the story that gripped me the most wasn’t the ten-year-old crime, but how Gretchen would survive once she knew the truth.
Likewise, I loved watching Gretchen’s interaction with Jewish reporter Daniel. It was fascinating to watch Gretchen grow from someone who mindlessly accepted that Jews were subhuman into someone who understood the value and humanity in all people. The love story was sweet, but much like the murder mystery, it was secondary for me. I was mostly invested for Gretchen’s internal change and growth. It’s rare to read a book where the protagonist wholeheartedly buys into the rightness of society’s harmful ideals, and then is forced to change her mind and heart completely when she is faced with the truth. I thought PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG handled that transformation wonderfully.
As I mentioned before, the attention to historical detail in this story is commendable. While Gretchen, Daniel, and several other important characters are fictitious, many of the characters in this book were real people, in addition to Hitler himself. Similarly, many of the events and locations referenced also were based on true historical accounts. I thought Anne Blankman’s thorough research and her thoughtful portrayal of history helped the fictional events leap off the page, and gave her story a real air of believably. I don’t think anyone should pick up a historical fiction novel expecting a 100% educational experience, but I do think PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG helped shed a light on a period of history that isn’t often taught in schools, and did so with a lot of care and respect to the time period. The plot of the story may be fictitious, but the backdrop was real, and I thought the balance between the two was wonderful.
Overall, I found PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG a fascinating read, full of compelling characters and challenging questions, set in one of the most intriguing and terrifying periods of history. If you enjoy well-written, thoughtfully researched historical fiction, or simply great characters making hard choices against overwhelming odds, I highly recommend you give it a try.
Wow. I am in awe of how amazing this novel is, let alone for a debut. Anne Blankman’s Prisoner of Night and Fog is a book I had high expectations for, but it left them all in the dust. Truly, I couldn’t conceive of the book being this amazing, but Prisoner of Night and Fog hits every note beautifully: the writing, the plot, the concept, the history, and the characters. This is a book you’re going to see me talking about a lot, and will no doubt be on my lists of favorite books at the year’s end. Anne Blankman debuts with a heartbreaking, psychologically-compelling, dark and beautiful novel set during the Weimar Republic era as Hitler rises to power.
Blankman, as most historical novelists do, ends the book with Author’s Notes, which briefly get into the research done and how the history differed from the fictional account. Though I generally don’t read any extra material in books, I make an exception for these Author’s Notes, because I love hearing about all the work that went into the novel and their assessment on history versus fiction. They also always inspire me to read a bit more history, though I usually don’t follow through. I will be adding some of Blankman’s recommendations on Goodreads, however.
The Weimar Republic era has always been one of my favorites to study. The Weimar government was actually a pretty good one, but, strapped with war reparations, had no recourse but to print more money to pay them, which resulted in rampant inflation. The German people were starving and looking for a way out or someone to blame. Into this vacuum comes Adolf Hitler. The political dynamics and timing play out in a way that bring all of this about, and I think the interplay is fascinating. Fiction tends to focus more often on WWI and WWII, so I was thrilled that an author delved into the meaty time between the wars.As fascinating as WWII is, considering the steps that lead to the outbreak of another world war so soon after the first is even more compelling for me.
The heroine of Prisoner of Night and Fog is Gretchen Müller. She is a Nazi and thinks of Hitler as Uncle Dolf. Her family has been close with his ever since her father sacrificed his life to protect Hitler during the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. Gretchen’s father died and became a martyr of the Nazi cause. Because of this, Hitler watches out for the Müllers. Blankman does a really good job of capturing life for Gretchen before her eyes are opened to what’s happening. Until someone informs her that there’s more to her father’s death, Gretchen never questions Hitler or his beliefs. It doesn’t occur to her that she should question them.
Portraying Hitler as solely a creepy and evil figure would be easy to do, but Blankman goes further and captures his many sides. Part of the reason Hitler rose to power was that he was charismatic; he was good at making people believe him. His speeches were compelling and he put a lot of thought into his actions. He was a skilled manipulator, so skilled that many didn’t even know that he was manipulating them. There’s a really powerful scene in Prisoner of Night and Fog where Gretchen has begun to suspect Hitler is not the sweet man she thought he was, but, even so, hearing him orate, she finds herself falling into the sway of his ideas. The Hitler depicted in Prisoner of Night and Fog is all the more fearsome a villain for these skills and his ability to mask what he is.
Blankman sets up a perfect comparison to Adolf Hitler in the form of Reinhard, Gretchen’s older brother. Reinhard has enlisted with the SA, and he’s a success there, since he’s a brutal person. Though I’ve not taken much psychology, Reinhard is a clear-cut case, a classic pscyhopath. He’s terrorized Gretchen all of her life and, in a lot of ways, he’s more terrifying than Hitler in Gretchen’s personal story. Blankman considers the psychological aspects of these figures, which is eerie and upsetting, but makes for a very thought-provoking and powerful read.
Gretchen’s eyes are opened to the truth of the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler by Daniel Cohen, a young Jewish reporter. Daniel is an immediate shock to her sensibilities, so different from what she’s been told Jews are. I pretty much picture him as Max from the film version of The Book Thief. Daniel’s a wonderful figure and I really adore their romance. At the same time, though, I love that Prisoner of Night and Fog really isn’t about Daniel. He presents her with the impetus to get moving, but this is her journey. She takes the biggest risks, does her own research, and makes choices for herself. Nothing she does is because of a boy; it’s all for her. She doesn’t believe what Daniel says because he says it, but because the evidence of Hitler’s own treatment of her and a closer investigation of Hitler’s own words makes it clear that Daniel’s words are true.
Gretchen Müller is an amazing heroine. She lives every day in circumstances under which I would crumble. Even before Prisoner of Night and Fog begins, she’s been navigating life with her psychopathic brother and a mother who refuses to acknowledge the danger Reinhard presents. As the novel unfolds, Gretchen bears everything so well. She’s terrified constantly, but she always keeps thinking and doing her best. She doesn’t always follow the wisest course, but she does what she feels is right unerringly.
The Final Verdict:
The short version? Read this book. I hope you love it as much as I do. I also hope I don’t have to wait too long for Blankman’s next novel, because I need it.
This was a highly impressive debut novel from Anne Blankman. There were so many facts about what was happening at this time in real life woven into the plot without it coming across as dry or simply stuffed in to seem impressive. It gave a great perspective on how easily it can be to get sucked in by someone who has firm beliefs and who’s passionate and charismatic, make you believe you want what they want.
I love Gretchen as a character. The slow progression from her believing everything Hitler has taught her to discovering who she really is was well-written and believable. It wasn’t instant, there were some slips backwards, and that was what made me believe it. She fought through everything that was trying to keep her an agreeable little girl and became a young woman with her own thoughts and her own beliefs.
The romance was sweet and I like that it never became the focus. The story was always Gretchen’s journey and Daniel was someone who could help her discover herself and discover the truth about her father. He was supportive and caring and everything he needed to be for her.
The first half of the book was a little slow but things picked up around the halfway mark, and tension really picked up in the last quarter. It was clear the author did her research before writing about this time and these events. Plenty of real events were mentions, real people were present, and there was an author’s note and a bibliography packed with more information along with each part of the book containing a quote from Hitler.
This was a book that was hard to put down with lots of tension and action, great characters(both good and evil), and well-researched.
The Müller family are honored people, because Gretchen’s father sacrificed his life for Hitler. This means that she grew up with ‘uncle Dolf’ as one of his favorites. This doesn’t prevent her brother Reinhard from punishing her for every mistake she makes. Gretchen is scared for him and when he beats her up one day, she flees to a Jewish news reporter she is starting to be friends with. Daniel contacted her after finding a terrible discovery: her father didn’t sacrifice himself, he was killed and then flung in front of Hitler. Together they try to unravel the truth, despite the danger of finding out.
I admired Gretchen. Her mother always seem to favor her brother and he treats her so badly. It was not strange she was terrified of him. He had this cold, plain evil way of looking at things. Emotionless and calculated, those are the two words he has written all over his personality. He doesn’t shy away from violence and Gretchen knows he is not afraid of hurting her. Despite everything, she has courage and it’s brave how she handles situations. I liked that she was determined to find out the truth and how she was able to let Daniel in her life. Growing up with the biggest enemy of the Jews has imprinted her with Jew-hate. It was realistic how she slowly changes the way she looks at them; how she starts to see Daniel as human instead of Jew.
Daniel was great. Fierce and passionate to protect his people. It was good how he deals with Gretchen in the beginning. He understands that she hates him, because she is taught too. He is able to see her good heart and it must have been hard to have patience, but he let her change in her own pace. The growing friendship between them was adorable and so different from the normal relationships, because of their different worlds. Their love story is almost like Romeo & Juliet without the tragic ending. It was perfect to make the story less depressing, even when it didn't make me swoon.
Reading about Anne’s portrayal of Hitler is fascinating. It’s almost impossible to think about him as a human, because his maniac choices make him almost look like a monster. She managed to create a person who makes you understand that people where charmed by him and it still showed the madness that is lurking inside him. The whole story was just clever with a strong plot and a wonderful cast. The ending is satisfying, tying everything that happened in this book while leaving excitement for the next book. I enjoyed this a lot and I can’t wait to see more of this story.