An “Editor’s Choice” from the Historical Novel Review

The Blue Suitcase was the Editor’s choice in the May 2011 isue of the Historical Novel Review.

For each quarterly issue of the Historical Novels Review, the editors will select a small number of titles they feel exemplify the best in historical fiction. These novels, which come highly recommended from our reviewers, have been designated as Editors’ Choice titles.

In Silesia, Germany, in 1932, Antonia Nasiski is about to celebrate her 12th birthday. Hitler’s Brownshirts are fighting Red Front Marxists in the streets, but all Antonia cares about is her birthday. However, the political unrest is a constant source of argument in her family. Her mother, a doctor, is outraged by Hitler but her father, a civil servant, is more conciliatory. As Hitler takes control of Germany Antonia’s family disintegrates.
The reader is drawn into a world not often portrayed in fiction—that of the German civilian during Hitler’s reign. Antonia tells her story through her diary. At twelve she’s self-absorbed and unaware of the political upheaval. By the end of her journey she’s an adult who has somehow survived the most harrowing of experiences and emerged a strong and resourceful woman.
Antonia shows how the German population gradually came to understand what a monster Hitler was but was helpless in the face of the Gestapo and SS. The devastation the British bombings caused to the civilian population is graphically depicted. Having survived the Nazis and the war, Antonia then has to face the barbarity of the Russian troops. When Silesia becomes part of Poland, Antonia and the remainder of her family are displaced.
This is not an easy read but it is a compelling one. The simple narrative style of a diary is exactly right. The most appalling deprivations and gruesome events are related in a matter-of-fact way that makes them even more horrific.
This superb book is based on the life of Marianne Wheelaghan’s mother, and she has seamlessly supplemented the facts with impeccable research. I found this story uncomfortable to read but couldn’t put it down. It’s a story that will stay with you for ever. This is a must-read book for 2011.

Fenella Miller


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