Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for People Like Us by Louise Fein (published in the US as Daughter of the Reich). My thanks to Vicky Joss at Head of Zeus for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my review copy via NetGalley. Do check out the post of my tour buddy, Grace at GraceJReviewerlady.
About the Book
‘I nearly drowned and Walter rescued me. That changes everything.’
Leipzig, 1930’s Germany. Hetty Heinrich is a perfect German child. Her father is an SS officer, her brother in the Luftwaffe, herself a member of the BDM. She believes resolutely in her country, and the man who runs it.
Until Walter changes everything. Blond-haired, blue-eyed, perfect in every way Walter. The boy who saved her life. A Jew.
Anti-Semitism is growing by the day, and neighbours, friends and family members are turning on one another. As Hetty falls deeper in love with a man who is against all she has been taught, she begins to fight against her country, her family and herself.
Hetty will risk have to risk everything to save Walter, even if it means sacrificing herself…
Format: ebook (528 pages) Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication date: 7th May 2020 Genre: Historical Fiction
Find People Like Us on Goodreads
People Like Us transports the reader to pre-WW2 Germany and life as seen through the eyes of Hetty. Month by month through the years between 1933 and 1938, we witness Hetty’s transformation from malleable young girl, to conflicted teenager and, finally, to young woman forced by circumstances to make the most difficult decision of her life. All this against the background of the rise of Nazism and the prospect of war. In her Author’s Note, Louise Fein explains the novel was inspired by her own family history and her desire to tell the story of a young person fed, in her words, “a twisted ideology”.
The indoctrination of young people like Hetty through the education system was especially unsettling to read about: classes in the ‘science’ of eugenics and racial purity, study of the life of the Fuhrer, and a “daily chant of gratitude” to Hitler. In a chilling subversion of the book’s title, Hetty and her classmates are taught that other races are not “people like us” but different and inferior to the German people.
Whilst reading the book I was reminded of the quotation “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. This seemed particularly relevant in a scene where Hetty’s father, an SS officer who also runs Leipzig’s main newspaper explains to her and Karl, her brother, it’s importance. “This…is the most important tool we have. With these inked words, we can shape our nation. There is no such thing as news per se. News is power, wrapped in a message, presented, told and retold.” The book is a reminder, as if one were needed, of how easy it is to manipulate public opinion by playing on people’s fears and sense of injustice. And how those feelings can be transformed into hatred of an “other”, whether that be people of a different religion or race.
However, there are messages of hope within the book. The author is careful to give us characters who demonstrate not every German was a Nazi, that there were those who resisted, necessarily in secret. As one character observes, “Even if we only do something small, help just one person…Well, that’s defiance, isn’t it?” And I loved the notion that even daring to think differently, to challenge what you have been taught is an achievement. So we see the contrast between Hetty’s witnessing of the violence of Kristallnacht – “ordinary men and women, carried along by something huge and ugly, overwhelming hatred and fear that makes them do unthinkable, unspeakable things” – and the courage and generosity of others such as those who organised the Kindertransport taking children to safety in England.
The experiences of Hetty and Walter, two young people who love each other but find events and political dogma have placed obstacles in their way, I’m sure replicate many real life stories from the time. It makes People Like Us an emotion-filled and compelling story of forbidden love, betrayal and sacrifice.
In three words: Intense, emotional, insightful
Try something similar: Hidden in the Shadows by Imogen Matthews
About the Author
Louise Fein holds an MA in Creative Writing from St Mary’s University. Prior to studying for her Master’s degree, she ran a commodity consultancy business following a career in banking and law. She lives in Surrey with her family.
People Like Us is inspired by her family history, and by the alarming parallels she sees between the early 1930s and today.