A former professor descends into darkness in this provocative story of a Nazi soldier torn between duty and conscience.
East Prussia, Nazi Germany, 1939. History professor Erik Mueller is a model citizen and a family man. He’s also a decorated sergeant in the Gestapo. Proving his courage on the battlefields of Poland and the Soviet Union, and proud of the German army’s victories across Europe, he embraces what he thinks is the righteousness of the Third Reich’s cause.
But his loyalties are soon tested when he crosses paths with his old university friend Trude Bensheim. Forced into unemployment for being Jewish, Trude and her husband start a secret organization to help Jews escape Germany. But when they are betrayed by someone they thought they could trust, their lives hang in the balance.
Erik feels responsible for Trude’s capture, and he knows he’s in a position to help them. But when everything he holds dear is at stake, will he save his friends…or himself?
My Review of A Bitter Rain
James D. Shipman gives us a powerful and memorable WWII novel in A Bitter Rain. It’s 1939 and Erik Mueller, an unemployed historian, is now a member of the SS thanks to his wife’s connections to Karl Schmidt, an up and coming officer stationed at SS headquarters in Konigsberg. While Erik is grateful for the job and income, he is less than enthusiastic about going to war. Corina, his wife, is hungry to move up in the world and constantly prods Erik to do whatever he can to make that happen.
While Corina is fully indoctrinated and in line with all of the Nazi propaganda, Erik is skeptical and leery of the misleading nature and brainwashing of his countrymen against the Jewish population. Never does their differences of opinion become clearer than when Erik runs into his former friend Trude Bensheim from his university days. Erik is surprised and happy to see Trude, but Corina is livid. She wants nothing to do with his former Jewish friend and denounces his former friendship with her. Trude has only one thing in mind, to advance Erik through the ranks and to live by all the Nazi’s proclamations.
As war is declared and Germany attempts to take over Europe, Erik is forced into battle. Afraid, but determined, Erik displays stoicism in leading his men onto the frontlines of battle. His fortitude and bravery does not go unnoticed. His remaining men show him respect and loyalty and his superiors advance him quickly through the ranks. At home, Corina is happy with her rising star and sees herself climbing the social ladder. Unfortunately, for Trude and her family, Konigsberg, the war and the political ramifications of the Nazi party have become a terrifying ordeal. Borders are closed and passports are denied. Food is scarce and deportation is now a reality for her Jewish friends and neighbors. Trude knows it’s only a matter of time till they are caught and thus begins their personal nightmare.
While Erik enjoys the camaraderie of his commanding officer and the men he leads, a battle in a small Russian town seals his fate. Although he leads his men to victory, he disobeys an order from his commanding officer to kill a group of unarmed Russian prisoners. Knowing he will lose everything he has gained, Erik refuses the command. He is immediately arrested and taken back to Germany. Awaiting trial, he is beaten and humiliated by the high officers and the Nazi guards. Karl, for the sake of Corina, comes to his rescue again and gives him another chance. If he fails this time, it will cost him his life and possibly that of his family. Now stripped of his rank with a wife who refuses to acknowledge him, Erik leaves for Soldau, a concentration camp for Jewish prisoners where the vast majority are starved or worked to death. Erik’s new job is to confiscate Jewish prisoners’ property and turn it over to the government. As time goes by, Erik settles in trying to ignore what goes on behind the prison walls until he sees Trude. Now Erik must decide once again to stand his moral ground and help Trude escape and risk losing everything, even his very life.
I had a hard time putting this book down. Beautifully written with characters you’ll either love or hate, A Bitter Rain is a winner, especially for those who love a great WWII novel. I loved Trude and the lengths she was willing to go to protect her daughter. I liked Erik and his ability to put aside his own safety to take the high ground no matter what it cost. I disliked Gunther and Corina. Both of these characters were self-serving, greedy and desperately in need of a conscience. My favorite characters however, were minor characters. Captain Dutt, Friedrich, Schaefer and Frau Werner. These four showed kindness and empathy at a time when doing so could get you killed or worse. They were beautiful souls that enriched the story-line and added so much to the book. As all good books do I was reluctant to let these characters go.
On a side note, I greatly appreciated the historical commentary the author gave us on Konigsberg, East Prussia, the SS, Soldau Concentration Camp and Germany and the Nazi’s at the close of the book. Even though the characters in the book were fictitious, it was a stark reminder that the events were not.
A Bitter Rain is a must read for those who like drama, historical fiction or a good WWII novel. Filled with strong characters and an equally strong story-line, A Bitter Rain is a winner that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
I want to thank Lake Union Publishing via NetGalley for an advanced copy of A Bitter Rain for a fair and honest review.
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