Book Review for “The School for German Brides” by Aimie K. Runyan.
Summary: “Germany, 1939 – As the war begins, Hanna Rombauer, a young German woman, is sent to live with her aunt and uncle after her mother’s death. Thrown into a life of luxury she never expected, Hanna soon finds herself unwillingly matched with an SS officer. The independence that her mother lovingly fostered in her is considered highly inappropriate as the future wife of an up-and-coming officer and she is sent to a “bride school.” There, in a posh villa on the outskirts of town, Hanna is taught how to be a “proper” German wife. The lessons of hatred, prejudice, and misogyny disturb her and she finds herself desperate to escape. For Mathilde Altman, a German Jewish woman, the war has brought more devastation than she ever thought possible. Torn from her work, her family, and her new husband, she fights to keep her unborn baby safe. But when the unthinkable happens, Matilde realizes she must hide. The risk of discovery grows greater with each passing day, but she has no other options.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical, Germany – Berlin; Other Categories: Novel, WWII.
Note: Goodreads has an incorrect blurb that incorrectly calls Mathilde, Rachel. Just FYI!
Okay, can I just say that, as a Jew, the whole idea of someone passing as Aryan during WWII has always made me feel very uncomfortable. True, with my light hair and blue eyes, I could easily have been one of them, but I would hope that my first instinct would have been to use that only in order to help others try to escape (and yes, I know that hindsight is 20/20). And yes, I also know that there were many Jews at the time who were very assimilated (for example, my mother-in-law’s whole family); they thought they weren’t “really” Jews, they were first and foremost Germans, Austrians, or whatever. Despite that, the Nazis had a real talent for ferreting them out, and making sure they knew what their regime thought of them. So, at the outset, there were a few things here that didn’t sit right with me.
One of those things was that initially, I had a hard time with the premise that Hanna would be taken in by her Hitler loving aunt and uncle, since it seemed to me that her mother was Jewish. However, I was wrong about that, and her mother’s “crime” wasn’t her religion, but rather her profession. She was a doctor who was banned from practicing medicine under the Nazi regime because she was a woman. This is something I was unaware of, but apparently it is true. When I finally figured this out, I realized that Hanna’s whole relationship with her aunt and uncle made more sense to me. Since these two were true party-line believers, it made sense that they might want to remodel Hanna into one of their own kind, and marry her off to an SS officer. Still, while this worked out just fine, there were a few other inconsistencies that made me scratch my head a few times. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like Hanna, because I did, and I felt increasingly sympathetic to her as the story unfolded.
Tilde on the other hand had a much more consistent story. She was one of those cases of a child of a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father. That Tilde’s father saw the writing on the wall, and to save his own (greedy) skin, divorced his Jewish wife, abandoned his daughter, and took over his father-in-law’s business, made much more sense to me. I’m guessing this is why I found Tilde to be a much more sympathetic character, even when I wasn’t totally happy with some of her decisions. I’m also guessing that Runyan had a fairly expansive story to tell, and this may have been why I felt that Tilde’s relationships with her family and customers felt somewhat telegraphic at times. Plus, I would have liked to have had a whole lot more about Klara, the girl who becomes the connection between Hanna and Tilde, since I liked her rebellious streak, even when she was being petty and contentious. Mind you, some of what happens with Klara seems a bit overly convenient, but still… I liked her and I smiled every time she was in a scene.
So, you’re probably wondering why I kept reading this novel. The truth is, while it seems like I found many faults in this book, I really enjoyed Runyan’s writing and boy, does ever know how to keep the tension up with her plot. Because I liked the main characters (albeit, in varying degrees), I did want to know what happened to them, so there was no way I could stop reading. Admittedly, I thought that Runyan’s “Girls on the Line” was a more cohesive story, and I enjoyed it a bit more than I did this book (possibly because Runyan got a few Jewish things wrong here, which she didn’t have to deal with in that novel). That’s why I can still recommend this novel for anyone looking for a slightly different WWII novel (that one that thankfully doesn’t have a dual timeline), and I think it deserves three and a half stars out of five. That said, now I really want to read her book about the female Red Army fighter pilots during WWII!
William Morrow released “The School for German Brides” by Aimie K. Runyan on April 26, 2022. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley.