Nancy Oakes's Reviews > Flight From Berlin

Flight From Berlin by David John
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's review
Jul 11, 12

bookshelves: gave-away
Read in June, 2012

I'd give it 3.5 stars if I had the option; here rounded up to 4 to be fair.

I'm finished with my ARC; if anyone would like to have this book and you live in the US, be the first to leave a comment saying that you want it. I'll pay the postage to give it a new home.

Flight From Berlin is a work of historical fiction, set in 1936 and 1937 in both Nazi Germany and London. It's a good light-espionage/adventure/escape read, populated with historical figures as well as fictional ones inspired by real people of the time (as noted in the end section) and structured in three parts. The author states that the book came about as a result of a "fascination with history's footnotes," which is an attraction I just happen to share.

Eleanor Emerson, daughter of a senator and wife of a bandleader, has just been accepted on the US Olympics swimming team. She is on her way to Berlin for the 1936 Olympics and is expected to follow the team rules while on board the ocean liner taking her across the Atlantic with the rest of the Olympians. Sadly, her penchant for rule breaking and partying with celebrities gets her kicked off the team even before she reaches Germany, but friends in the press offer her a job as a reporter at the Olympic games. In the meantime, Richard Denham, a British journalist, finds himself on board the Hindenburg, guest of an old family friend, as it overflies the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony. Berlin has been completely transformed for the Games -- the "state sadism" has been "hidden from view," there are no signs indicating "Jews Not Wanted," and the order of the day is "jollity and cheerfulness." Denham, who lives and works in Berlin, has been tipped off to an incredible story: Jewish fencer Hannah Liebermann, who had already relocated to the United States, has been called back to compete for the Nazis in the Olympics -- as a guarantee that she'll participate, her relatives have been threatened. She is also under orders not to win a gold medal. On the trail of this story, which he wants to break to reveal the real evil under the Olympics window dressing, he meets up with Eleanor, who is a guest of the family of American Ambassador William Dodd. The two become caught up in a very strange situation: it seems that both British Intelligence and the Nazis are on the hunt for a secret, very explosive dossier, and for some reason, the Nazis seem to think that Denham has it, and will do anything it takes to get their hands on it. The story tracks back to London, where Eleanor and Richard face a moral dilemma that returns them to Germany before finishing up with an explosive ending.

If this were just another spy thriller, it would still be a good read, although perhaps not as intense as other novels I've read that are set in Nazi Germany. Although there is no lack of action, and I was hooked early on, I was really drawn to what was going on historically around the hunt for the dossier and the ultimate revelations toward the end of the novel. There is a lot going on behind the scenes that elevate this book from just another novel of Nazi vs. everyone else. The author alludes to attitudes toward the trend toward appeasement, the growing belief in the importance of intelligence vs. diplomacy, the reign of terror of the Brownshirts on city streets, and of course, the fate of the Jews. There's also a great deal here on the politically-charged 1936 Olympics -- the appeals for boycotts, etc., along with a passing mention of the irony of Jessie Owens' success up against the situation for African-Americans in America's Jim Crow South. As Eleanor notes,

"The press boys told me that all gold medalists are interviewed on live radio after their competition. Imagine that. A black man's voice is speaking to Germany right now. They wouldn't put him on the radio back home unless he was singing Dixie."

Another good thing the author's does here is to reveal that it wasn't only the Nazis who were the bad guys -- there were others lurking in the wings who offered their services without wearing the party insignia. Aside from the history, David John is really quite good at descriptions and setting; it's also very obvious that he's done a lot of research for this book. I was so taken with his writing on the Olympics that I bought a copy of Guy Walters' Berlin Games: How the Nazis Stole the Olympic Dream after seeing the reference in the Author's Notes. The romance is light (which made me happy) and the characters are drawn well. What I wasn't so thrilled with was the last part of the novel -- while it was exciting, it was somewhat predictable and more in tune with a movie version of this book rather than a realistic wind down to the final scene.

On the whole -- Flight From Berlin is a good read, one that will definitely keep you turning pages while you soak up some of the well-developed historical background. And while I thought that the end was a bit over the top as well as predictable, other reviewers absolutely love it, so it's one you'll have to experience on your own.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Scott (new)

Scott This sounds very interesting. I would love to read it.

message 2: by Nancy (new) - added it

Nancy Oakes Scott wrote: "This sounds very interesting. I would love to read it."

Okay, Scott -- just send me an email: oakesn at gmail dot com and I'll get the book out to you!

message 3: by Jbehlert (new)

Jbehlert Hey Scott, when you're done with it and if you want to pass it on, I'd love to read it. Just shoot me an email if you decide to jbehlert at americanis do net.

message 4: by Theresa (new) - added it

Theresa Hi, when you're done if you feel inclined to keep it going, I'd love to read it! ( Thanks!

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