Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Book Review: The Fortunate Ones

By Jami Denison

While romance is not my genre, I’m familiar with the requirements (HEA) and the tropes. Romeo and Juliet-style “warring families” have been popular since, well, Romeo and Juliet, but not all warring tribes are created equal. Setting this type of romance in World War II Germany is a highly controversial choice, and authors who have tried it have sometimes been widely criticized. Historical fiction is my genre, though, and when I heard about a book that seemed to dip its toe in that controversial water, I was intrigued. The Fortunate Ones, by historical fiction writer Catherine Hokin, is summarized like a romance novel. But the book itself, which originally came out in January 2020 and was released in paperback this summer, is anything but. 

In 1941 Berlin, eighteen-year-old Inge Ackermann, the spoiled only daughter of a wealthy factory owner, is preparing to marry Max Eichel, an older doctor who is prominent in the Nazi party. But her best friend Liesl talks her into sneaking out to an illegal club, and that’s where she meets Felix. The dark-haired boy catches her eye, and soon they’re kissing in a corner before the police raid the party. They meet up once more in a park, where he gives her a drawing he’s done of her, and then fate sends them their separate ways. Inge marries her Nazi; Felix is sent to a concentration camp. The only thing that sustains him is the memory of Inge, whom he believes is named Hannah.

I have to admit, the book didn’t grab me at first. While teenage Inge can be absolved for her early immaturity, Felix’s self-absorption is harder to take. He’s a Mischling – “half-blood” – with a Jewish father and Aryan mother; he has never been to temple. His father is deteriorating under the new laws, and Felix wonders why his mother doesn’t just leave him. He seems almost oblivious to the suffering of the Jewish people, immediately fixating on “his Hannah.” As the story unfolds, however, Hannah becomes less of a real person and more of an ideal that Felix focuses on to stay alive in a concentration camp. As a counterfeiter, Felix receives slightly better treatment than the others in the camp, and the disparity haunts him. 

Trapped in a loveless marriage to a high-ranking Nazi, surrounded by people who believe in the Nazi cause, Inge has no way out. She risks her life to save Felix and pays dearly for it. With no one in her life that truly cares for her, Inge is in her own fight for survival as well.

This is not a book for romance fans. It’s a sweeping journey that takes Felix and Inge well past the end of the war, revealing that the suffering didn’t stop just because Germany surrendered. The research is meticulous, as author Hokin takes readers to post-World War II Argentina, revealing that Nazis out of power are still Nazis. 

The ending was perfect for both the characters and the story, but left me feeling that there was still so much more to be told. Sometimes happily ever after isn’t possible; sometimes the true happy ending is justice. 

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Catherine Hokin:

Enjoyed this post? Never miss out on future posts by following us

No comments: