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Saints and Villains

4.04  ·  Rating Details  ·  413 Ratings  ·  63 Reviews
In the charnel house that was Europe in the Second World War, there were few instances of shining moral courage, let along secular sainthood. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and Nazi resister was the exception. This emblematic figure risked his life--and finally lost it--through his participation in a failed plot to assassinate Hitler and topple his regime. Sain ...more
Paperback, 512 pages
Published February 9th 1999 by Ballantine Books (first published February 17th 1998)
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Apr 30, 2009 Chrissie rated it it was amazing
Is this the best book I have ever read about WW2? Maybe so. A perfect blend of fact and fiction. Fiction can help teach. I read sonewhere here on GoodReads a comment that the reader disliked non-fiction because it was so boring. OMG I believe the total opposite. There is no way that authors can dream up what life really throws at us. Emotionally, this is not an easy read, but it is impossible to put down. You can go on because the author writes of the true to life mixture of horror and beauty. I ...more
Mary Helene
Apr 20, 2007 Mary Helene rated it it was amazing
It's odd to read a novel about a historical person in this century. I kept puzzling while I was reading whether, for example, his girlfriend was fictional or real, since I'd never heard of her. She's fictional but she fills a useful function in a novel. I recommend reading the author's note at the end first, if this sort of incongruence is going to bother you.

I read this book because the book club I belong to in town was reading it and I was dismissive of the idea that I might learn something,
Aug 22, 2007 Annika rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
This is probably one of my very favorites of all times. I was first introduced to Denise Giardina through an Appalachian studies class, and learned of her Appalachian writings. This is a completely different genre, but she does an excellent job of developing an theologic figure into a three dimensional human being. I felt like I could relate, on some level to his struggles to continue to believe. Plus, it made me curious to learn more about the historical Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I've read it twice, ...more
Apr 07, 2014 Diane rated it liked it
3.5. I really liked the first half of the book depicting Bonhoeffer's early life, his year at Union Theological Seminary in NYC, his time as a pastor in England, and his rejection of the German state church. Giardina does a good job of dramatizing the difference between Bonhoeffer and American theologians like Reinhold Niebuhr and of portraying his shock at American racial discrimination. Bonhoeffer was an extremely private person, cerebral and emotionally repressed, a man whose interior life wa ...more
Aug 13, 2007 Mark rated it really liked it
I entered the fictionalization of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer with some trepidation, since he is one of my heroes. But Denise Giardina did a fine job with this, evoking the evolution the German pastor went through and his eventual decision to join in a plot to assassinate Hitler, which he paid for with his life. Very well done.
Diane Kaplowitz
Dec 04, 2007 Diane Kaplowitz rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
This is my all time favorite book about the plight of the jewish people in world war II and Dietrich Bonhoeffer's (Chrisian theologian and martyr)effort to help overturn the Nazi regime which cost him his life. Written as historical fiction, but the main story line is based on fact.
I'm glad I read this. The author clearly states that it is an imaginative and fictionalized biography, and I thought I was good with that, really, but as the book went on it bugged me, more, I'd say, because I don't know the real details.

I did very much appreciate the narrative of the war and the events leading up to it, along with the personal perspective and growth of Pastor Bonhoeffer.

There was something about Giardina's writing that just didn't jive with me. Something about her sentence stru
Nov 21, 2008 Jonathan rated it it was amazing
Oh dear me, I am very glad I read this book. It was actually very different from what I expected. I think the aspect of the book that was most different from my expectations was also the one that I most appreciated, and that was how un-heroic Bonhoeffer's story was. Throughout so much of the book it was hard to believe both for me as a reader and it seemed Bonhoeffer as a character that any of the things he was able to do could have actually been a threat to Hitler's life. In away the very incre ...more
Jun 03, 2012 Rita rated it really liked it
It was hard to put down, and depressing. It haunted my dreams at night. I think it may be a life-changer. I want to read Bonhoeffer's Papers and Letter from Prison, but not right now.

Impressed/shamed that Hitler got his ideas of the early laws of segregation of the Jews by observing the way "Negroes" were treated in United States.

Love the distinction between faith and patriotism. One of the main themes for me was that a Christian should serve God before his/her nation, if their nation is wrong.
‘See, the nations count as a drop in the bucket, as a wisp of cloud on the scales; the coastlands weigh no more than a speck. . . . Before him all the nations are as naught, as nothing and void he counts them. To whom can you liken God? With what likeness can you confront him?’ (Isaiah 40:15, 17-18)

In her biographical novel, Saints and Villains, Diana Giardina does a masterful job tracing a probable spiritual journey of Dietrich Bonhoeffer beginning with his intellectual study of theology to the
Jan 11, 2016 Thomas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I will always love this book because it's the one that brought my wife, a Lutheran pastor, and I together. The first time we met we were out for dinner with mutual friends and I mentioned this novel I was reading about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, not knowing what a big deal Bonhoeffer was in Lutheran circles. I offered to meet her for coffee and loan her the book, a ruse that eventually worked. While I also love the novel for the story it tells, I'm grateful for other reasons!
Jan 23, 2010 Joni rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ww2
I learned of how much anti-semitism we Americans had during and after WW2...I first learned of the boat of German Jews we refused to let dock in the US, and instead sent the whole shipload back to Germany, where most all of the 300? people aboard died in concentration camps anyway.

Presbyterian minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer studies in England, Spain, and eventually New York. He returned to Germany with the Church's responsibility to participate in social and political debate. These ideals, unfortu
Donna Herrick
Mar 13, 2012 Donna Herrick rated it it was amazing
WOW! What a story. Bonhoeffer stood against the Nazis. I often criticise the Germans for their acquiesence to the Nazis. But this book shows us that there were Germans who actively opposed the Nazis. Those people were, locked up, beaten or shunned. So, what do we learn about how a population can keep a person such as Hitler from taking power?
Maybe we learn that God has invested us with freedom and it is our task to use that freedom responsibly. Bonhoeffer wrestled with what action he should take
Ted Newell
Jun 20, 2015 Ted Newell rated it really liked it
Thoroughly enjoyable and challenging fictional take on the inner life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer the courageous young church leader who chose to go back and stay back in 1930s Germany despite the likely cost.
Feb 18, 2014 Julia rated it liked it
This book is dense. It is not what I would call a "light read". I enjoyed some parts more than others because even though you know the outcome it is still suspenseful. Prior to reading this book I did not know much of Dietrich Bonhoeffer or the resistance movement of the Germans during and prior to WWII.
Donna Roye
Apr 07, 2016 Donna Roye rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A somewhat fictionalized biography of Deitrich Banheimer (spelling?). This was an interesting read and gave me an insight into his thoughts and life.
Sep 13, 2014 MLR rated it it was amazing
Just finished this. I was taken in by the first chapter. I didn't know it was based on the life of a real person until reading the notes at end of the book.
Christine Luong
Jul 11, 2010 Christine Luong rated it really liked it
I could not put this book down. It's historical fiction, so I'm sure some of what Giardina writes about is sensationalized for the reader, but the atrocities of war and the Nazi regime are just astonishing. It was interesting to read about the environment in Germany after World War I which allowed the rise of someone as evil as Hitler. Reading about all the pain and suffering was hard, but getting to learn about Dietrich Bonhoeffer made it more compelling. His struggle with right and wrong, theo ...more
Kitty b shonda
Sep 07, 2010 Kitty b shonda rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 11, 2015 Jennifer rated it liked it
The fictionalized story of Deitrich Bonhoeffer tells about this German pastor's role in the resistance against Hitler. His life was interesting enough and the last third of the book was gripping, but I found it hard to get through... I expected and experience more like "Snow Falling on Cedars" but just didn't find this as compelling.
Lisa Longacher
Nov 15, 2015 Lisa Longacher rated it really liked it
Not and easy read, but well worth it. Grim, and not always entertaining but I am so thankful that I read it.
Feb 03, 2009 Kelly rated it it was amazing
Denise Giardina introduces the reader to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He is introduced as a common citizen but, becomes a German hero of the Second World War. The story is riveting. Everything is so easily introduced to the reader that, when the reality of the German situation in WWII comes to light, it seems like a terrible misunderstanding. Giardina is so easy with her prose, so genuine that I sometimes ignored the underlying reality until, like Bonhoeffer, it was too late. I researched Bonhoeffer aft ...more
May 05, 2009 Colin rated it it was amazing
Denise Giardina has offered an imaginative but well-researched take on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Saints and Villains is a novel that goes into Bonhoeffer's thoughts, struggles, and experiences, starting with childhood, including his time in the seminary in New York. His interactions with T.S. Eliot and George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, are fascinating -- wish I could have eavesdropped on those conversations. I cheated here: I listened to it on audio. But this is historical fiction at its ...more
Mar 06, 2010 Judy rated it really liked it
I've wanted to read this for a long time. Even though it's fiction, I am interested in stories about courage in the face of danger. Dietrich Bonhaeffer modeled an admirable reaction to the Nazis.

It took awhile,but i finished this book. Maybe knowing how it would end slowed me down. He made some hard choices.

I liked the characters, some real,some not, but I now feel the need to read a non fictional account of Bonhaeffer's life. It cannot be soon, however, because this was a long book, and I nee
Mar 21, 2013 Ann rated it really liked it
A gripping novel about the life of German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In the '60s I read some Bonhoeffer ...was impressed with some of his ideas. But the novel (and there is apparently a fictionalized romance) gave me a more complete picture of the person. Is it necessary to fictionalize such a person? I'm not sure - and think that bothered some of my friends who read it. At the same time, it made Bonhoeffer's ideas and work more interesting.
Aug 21, 2007 Rachel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Appalachian studies readers; theology readers; Marxist readers
This book, too, is about the murders of hundreds of men by Union Carbide in West Virginia in the 1930s. It combines that historical narrative with another, fictionalized narrative about the real-life theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In the novel, Bonhoeffer travels to West Virginia (he is in the US to attend Union Seminary) and witnesses the tunnel diggers' deaths. Then he returns to Germany and must come to terms with the murder of Jews in the Holocaust.
Suzanne Freeman
Feb 04, 2012 Suzanne Freeman rated it liked it
I'm currently fascinated with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and have also just finished the Metaxes biography—a much better book. What I didn't like about this novelization of Bonhoeffer's life is that he comes off as a person who was pushed along by events rather than someone acting out of moral conviction. The very point of Bonhoeffer's writings — and his death — was that he acted out of his Christian moral convictions. Giardina did not do him justice.
Ellen Johnson
Mar 01, 2016 Ellen Johnson rated it really liked it
showed how Hitler's horrorshow slowly built up over time. A bit too much theorizing on theology, but otherwise kept your interest.
Mary Helene
May 18, 2008 Mary Helene rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bestofshelves
Is it fiction? Is it biography? it's both. A fictionalized history of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor in Germany during WWII, committed to nonviolence and yet hung for his role in a plot to assassinate Hitler. I have read Bonhoeffer's texts and seen movies: nothing was as vivid as this book. It was tremendously stimulating to be asking myself constantly - is this real? is this true? is this fact? what's the difference?
Paints a full, fascinating (and fictionalized) picture of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Somehow I didn't find it as compelling as I had hoped; maybe my expectations were too high? Or maybe the fictionalization is what didn't quite work for me, as I found myself occasionally distracted by wondering which people and details were factual. Though that's not a fault of the book, but of my reading preferences.
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Often labelled an Appalachian writer, or a historical novelist, Denise Giardina describes herself as a theological writer, exploring fundamental issues of faith and belief through literary characters.

Born and raised in the West Virginia coalfields, Giardina is an ordained Episcopal Church deacon, a community activist and a former candidate for the WV state governorship.

Her novels, fictionalizing h
More about Denise Giardina...

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“And what more can God do,' he asks, 'then to take on flesh and suffer every humiliation and every fear and every pain that humanity suffers? What more without destroying human freedom?” 4 likes
“How was God supposed to stop it? You're a free man, Alois. There are no invisible strings connecting you to God, directing your every move.'

But if God is all-powerful, God could intervene. God could find a way.'

And because God didn't intervene, it was all right.'


Too bad you don't believe in God, then. You've lost your excuse.'

Bauer blinked. He looked away. 'Perhaps I do believe in God,' he said.

Oh yes,' Dietrich said. 'God makes a convenient scapegoat. Or people always think God is absent when things are going bad for them. Things go better and God is back. Well, I want to live in the world as if there were no God. That is the only way God can truly be with any of us.”
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