Announced as her first published book, aside from many screenplays, Annette Hess gives us a memorable, riveting emotional roller coaster of a read. Pick this up and become mesmerized from page one and when finished it will be evident that a major literary force has entered the field with a decided bang.
The action is centered around the 1963 trials in Frankfurt, Germany of war criminals that ran the Auschwitz death camp during WWII. Eva Bruhns is a young woman with only faint memories of the war now two generations behind the world. She is working for a temporary employment agency as a translator when asked if she will fill in for a professional translator that cannot get a German visa in time for the trial’s opening. The trials are scheduled to start shortly and cannot be delayed awaiting the regular translator. Eva takes the job and becomes immersed in a life-changing position lasting several months. The main thrust of the action is her literally coming-of-age due to her work and thoughts as the court action goes on.
On the personal side, Eva is awaiting and expecting her suitor Jurgen Schoormann to ask her father for permission to marry her. Jurgen is the son and heir of a wealthy family who works in the family business and has ideas that a wife should be subservient to her husband. Doubts about the wisdom of marrying Jurgen enter her mind. In addition, due to facts coming out at the trial, Eva begins to question her mother’s and father’s silence about what they did during the war. Where were they and what did they do? And why is it never discussed?
Hess does not excuse the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis but does bring up via her characterizations the possibility that orders were followed since death or imprisonment could be the price of disobeying commands. The complexity of the mental anguish involved is not possible to understand without the experiences of people caught in an insurmountable conundrum with no way out of the situation without suffering something horrible. Does she make her case? Read the book and decide. If nothing else take part in a superb literary experience.
12/19 Paul Lane
THE GERMAN HOUSE by Annette Hess. HarperVia (December 12, 2019). ISBN 978-0008359867. 336p.