BLURB: “1933. War is in the air. And in Berlin one woman is torn between love, loyalty and duty.
Warning bells ring across Europe as Hitler comes to power. Clara Vine is young and ambitious, and determined to succeed as an actress. A chance meeting at a party in London leads her to Berlin, to the famous Ufa studios and, unwittingly, into an uneasy circle of Nazi wives, among them Magda Goebbels. Then Clara meets Leo Quinn who is undercover, working for British intelligence. Leo sees in Clara the perfect recruit to spy on her acquaintances, using her acting skills to win their confidence. But when Magda Goebbels reveals to Clara a dramatic secret and entrusts her with an extraordinary mission, Clara feels threatened, compromised and desperately caught between duty and love.”
It was interesting to see a book set in Nazi Germany written from the point of view of the Nazi elite, rather from the horrifically persecuted victims of Hitler’s regime. Prior to this novel I had read many other novels set in the period, but most of these centered on Jewish victims or innocent citizens unwilling to play their part in the terrible world of Hitler’s creation. This novel did incorporate these characters, of course – no novel on Nazi Germany can ignore the heartbreaking persecution inflicted on Jews and their sympathizers during the period. However, Thynne has chosen to look much more closely at not only the women of the Nazi elite, including Magda Goebbels, Leni Reifenstahl and Emmy Goering, but also the involvement of the British spy network in helping many Jews to escape to Palestine and attempting to discover exactly what was going on behind the Nazi facade of joyous national socialism. Thynne truly captures the atmosphere of Berlin at the time, a world hovering on the brink of destruction, and gives the reader a distinct impression of the threat and danger posed by the Nazi regime. Her handling of Magda Goebbels – notoriously known for killing her six children before both she and her husband committed suicide – is also very intriguing. Thynne presents Magda as a character of many contradictory layers; a devoted Nazi with great admiration for Hitler, but also the lover of a Jew; an abused wife who continues to support her husband in his political career with the utmost devotion. I had not previously known about Magda’s attachment to the Jew Victor Arlosoroff in her youth, nor that they had communicated later on in life while she was married to Goebbels – a risky move indeed, and one that I felt was well portrayed in the novel, if not fully explained. The main character, Clara, who befriends Magda and gains her trust, is clever and likeable, and her unwilling romance with Nazi Klaus Muller makes her seem both brave and sympathetic to the reader. The later romance with Leo Quinn, although annoyingly slow to develop, gives a heartwarming and more uplifting touch to a story that is unsurprisingly full of doom and gloom. The ending, however, was one I found disappointing. The threads of several characters’ stories, such as journalist Mary Harker and Erich, the son of Clara’s murdered friend Helga, were left hanging loose and unexplored. I also feel that the book ended rather abruptly, and could easily have been extended to incorporate later years of Hitler’s regime, even the beginning of the war itself. Clara and Leo’s romance is presumed to have continued, but we know nothing of whether their careers as spies for the British regime continued. Overall, I found the book to be likeable, and enjoyed reading it – however, I would personally be unlikely to read it a second time. All the same, this is an interesting portrayal of the Nazi elite, as well as of the German film industry.