Genetta asked:

[Spoiler Alert] Why do you think the author decided to add the rape scene? Does it add anything to the characters' arcs? Does it propel the plot forward? Does anything result from that scene? Frau Elena, Jutta, and the other three girls were already obviously miserable. The reader has already experienced the cruelty of war. Why was the rape scene necessary?

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Emmitouflee I think it was because after Germany was defeated, and occupied by Allied forces, millions of German women were indeed raped primarily by Soviet soldiers, but also by soldiers from the US, UK, France and so on. The women are hardly the central focus of the book, and most of the action takes place far away from them, highlighting their innocence, and yet they had to endure such suffering. It just further compounds the cruelty of war.

I think it was masterfully done, and we so often shy away from this harsh truth in history classes and history books, because it is much easier to portray the Allied forces as the "good guys," period, and a mass raping of helpless women makes us uneasy and doesn't align with our narrative of war, so I'm glad the author didn't try to just ignore that part of history. It stands in stark contrast to Volkheimer's arc, as by the end of the novel, despite killing hundreds of people, we don't see Volkheimer receive any sort of specific punishment.
Laura Araujo
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Haley Measures I had a hard time with this part of the book. We go for so long without hearing anything about Jutta except from her sporadic letters to Werner, and then this. However, the author does well to show the sufferings that Germany experienced during the war. They weren't all living the high life the whole time, but they suffered as well. I wonder if this scene was included in order to show that Hitler's Germany caused suffering for even its own people. I go in circles with this one. It's the one part of the book that I can't make sense of, to be honest.
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Sara Laor Geez Louise... it's part of historical accuracy. It's what happened. It's estimated that about 600,000 babies were born from raps at the very end of WWII -- that's excluding the ones that were successfully aborted during those hard times. Everyone expects WWII books to end a la Hollywood...
Katharine Best No, it wasn't necessary. In fact, it felt odd to suddenly insert this aspect of cruelty to such a suffering world. Unless, it was simply to put a fact about the conditions of war and women out there. The story could have gone on without it in my opinion.
Ian It's interesting to see this question pop up. I had just become curious, as the tide began to turn for Germany in the novel, about whether the American soldiers had truly been the dashing, selfless liberators we have heard praised. In that spirit, I had begun to investigate whether rape was widespread during the occupation of Germany, so when I read this chapter, it felt very fitting within the arc of the history of WWII. The characters and the interweaving of their stories is the centerpiece of this novel, but it is also a history of what life was for those living through the war, on both sides. We learned about what life was like for a few civilians and for a few army officers as the war began, during the course of the war, and as the war ended. In order to complete that arc, we needed to see/hear/feel what it was like for Jutta, Werner, Volkheimer, and Marie-Laure in the aftermath. This omission would have left a hole in the fabric of the larger story being told. Doerr actually seems to have approached the subject with a delicate touch, considering that gang-rape and rape-murder were also rampant as the Soviets occupied East Germany. I think he walked a fine line in choosing not to gloss over an essential fact of the end of the war, but also to avoid taking its treatment to the extreme.
Lee For me, too, this was maybe the most difficult part to read, esp. coming on the heels of what happened to Werner. I don't think its inclusion is necessarily to report on the atrocities of war - the book itself didn't focus on that too much (from my perspective).
Maybe it's a life marker in Jutta's life, something to explain how her character turned out as an adult. She was such an intelligent, curious, morally strong child (younger than Werner but always intrinsically understanding right from wrong) - today, she'd be the head of some human rights non-profit, but in the tidal wave of horror that she lived through as a poor orphan being used and abused in Hitler's Reich... she might have survived the death of her brother, and the poverty and misery of the war years, but the rape was maybe the last blow - she ended up as... sort of weak and scared and hiding within her little family. Going on that final treasure hunt to unlock the mystery of the little house seemed to have taken a huge mental effort.
The tragedy of this book's ending is overwhelming.
Chandré De Wet I think the fact that it comes so quick at the end and as Haley has said below, we hear nothing for so long then this... Is what brings the disconnect...If there was more chapters for Jutta's life, this would be easier to read. It feels like this book is written in a movie style and this scene is like when the credits roll at the end and they just put a title on the screen at the bottom with what happened to each character.
Robyn Brady I hated that it happened but I felt that it was very important to show how many of the German people suffered during and after the war. I think it was another example of how horrible war truly is. While Werner's sister and house mother suffered, you didn't hear as much about their suffering and I thought this showed how truly cruel war is.
Hannah Monroe Honestly, the scene was completely pointless. It's the only thing we really hear about from Jutta, and the scene itself is never revisited, and it doesn't really come up again through her characterization. It serves no purpose to the plot and just takes away from the overall effect of the novel. I was a fan of this book until this scene, but it was executed terribly and is disrespectful to the woman who had to endure the same fate.
Jay I think the key part of this awful scene is when the author mentions that the Russian keeps repeating the names of his friends probably killed by Germans, so the way I see it the Russian men didn't do it for their pleasure but to avenge their friends as a sort of irrational retaliation of cruelty. If you remember a couple chapters before, Werner describes how the Nazis would torture the Russian prisoners by making them strip and freeze to death and all that other stuff. It just adds to the whole "German guilt" thing that you see Jutta thinking about when she goes to St. Malo and is afraid people will attack her if they find out she's German. It's just another reminder of how messed up the war was on all levels.
M I think this was poor editing. The story was all ready over. It didn't add anything. Just because it happened to people doesn't mean it belongs in the story. In fact much of the end of this story was superfluous to the story and tarnished what was otherwise would have been a fantastic book.
Jessica I think the author's intention was to show that even though the Russians were on the "right side" of WWII and the Germans were the "bad guys", that not all of Germany's citizens were bad and that plenty of Russian (and I'm sure American, British, French, etc.) soldiers were not really good people. While it did feel like an unnecessary chapter and an awful, unnecessary scene to have to read, as others have mentioned it lends some historical accuracy to the atrocities many innocent citizens were facing immediately following the war.
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Abby I feel like the author may have put it in to relate back to near the beginning when some people (boys?) outside in her town said something along the lines of that soldiers are said/known to assault girls. I sorry if that is not actually what is said, I just am writing this off the top of my head. I think for historical accuracy, it shows violence that happened, but plot-wise, it barely contributes.
Randall Smith The rape scene was true in they occurred but it was to orderly and neat. These rapes were brutal and many women were injured and killed. He chose to have two of the rapists to be 17 year old boys. There were young men and they did rape. But they weren't just goofy kids out on a lark. These were crimes against humanity. Being raped as their first sexual experience would make it very hard to have a relationship the rest of their lives. Today these boy would be tried as adults and spend the rest of their lives behind bars. The real villain is the officer. It is his job to keep discipline and make sure things like this did not happen. He not only encouraged them he did it too. Supposedly he repeated the names of fallen comrades as he raped Jutta. That these men were thinking noble thoughts as they raped children is a lie. They raped their way across eastern Europe. They raped Hungarian, Chech, Yugoslav and Polish women. When they got to Germany they raped Jewish women. They reported to have told the rapist this woman is Jewish and he said "A woman is a woman. Has hole." Then they raped her anyway. They raped thousands of their own women prisoners who were sent to Germany as forced labor. These poor women frantically tried to hide because they came back again and again. They continued to rape them until Stalin finally sent them home with a stern warning not to say a word about what had happened to them. 2,000,000 rapes occurred in Germany but like they said if a woman was raped 20 or 30 times and they came back 5 times it was only counted as one incedent. The Soviet army was more like the Mongol Hordes or the Vikings plundering and raping wherever they went. Also they raped much younger children than these. I read one womans account. She was 4 years old when her and her sisters were raped. I also read a diary of a Russian officer who happened upon a small child and her mother. They were terrified because she had been raped 20 times by Russian soldiers and was afraid they would come back. The Nazis did terrible things but it did not justify what the Soviets did. They should and i'm sure are burning in hell for raping these women and espescially the children.
Amanda I think it had a lot to do with "entropy" which kept coming up in Werner's life. He learns that the disorder of a system will always increase and can only decrease if the disorder of another system also increases. When Werner is in Russia he sees the disorder of war, the chaos it creates. I think this is reflected well in the rape scene because it shows that the war created "entropy" in more than just Russia, but in Germany and France as well.
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Anastacia I was NOT okay with this scene at all. I thought it was terribly done and completely tone deaf to a woman’s experience of rape. And because of that, quite honestly, it felt gratuitous and grotesque...possibly even voyeuristic. While reading it—nauseated—I just kept repeating firmly and out loud NO through the entire scene because I found it emotionally vague and inaccurate as a vehicle for conveying the women’s experiences.
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Amy I agree with what was said about the complexities of war, historical accuracy, and how every side suffers, because the first country Hitler invaded was his own. To me (and this is my own personal take on it), it's almost as if the women/girls left behind 'paid' for what their men/boys did.
JS West I think it was to show the complexity of war. Every side suffers. Every side commits atrocities.
Nick Loeser I don't think it was necessary, but at the time of reading it I thought for sure they would all die.

In hindsight, it was probably included to illustrate more that the girls were "spared" versus victimized again. Perhaps they were saved because Werner had thrown the cursed stone into the ocean and was not in procession of it.
Samantha I felt the same way about this! I just didn't feel it made sense because the scene was squeezed at the very end and we hadn't gotten much regarding Jutta for a good portion of the book at all. I'm super aware that rape scenes can be necessary in historical fiction to depict what truly happened, I find them so challenging to get through every time but I still absolutely LOVE the nightingale, which has some detailed rape in the book. But it fit and made more logical sense. I also understand that rape happened just as much after the war, but within the book I just didn't understand how it was necessary or fit the end of the book.
brian baxter It did feel odd at first reading it in such a beautiful book. But widespread rape by the Russian army was something that German women had to contend with everyday.
The rape scene added a little more understanding of what was happening at the time.
Could it of been left out? Maybe,but it has got people talking about it. And has done its job.
Phil It felt really gratuitous to me. It doesn't add anything to the plot and we didn't need it to underline the horrors of war - that had already been done very effectively. It also felt very unrealistic - the way they were just told to 'stay calm and close your eyes' as if it were no more unpleasant than a trip to the dentist. And once it's over - that's it. Like it didn't have any impact on their lives at all.

I also found the way it was described felt like the author was trying to minimise the guilt of the rapists - so we have two young boys, barely out of childhood, and an officer who rapes young girls as a kind of 'memorial' to dead comrades? Sick!

I don't have an issue with an author writing about rape if the story needs it to happen, as long as it is handled sensitively. But this felt tacked on to the story. And it also minimised the impact of rape on the victims. It left a nasty taste in the mouth.
LaNise I honestly it might add to Jutta character specifically because the horrible man that did it said something, which I couldn't figure out through translator, but it also could have shown how women were treated and the dread and fear of everyday life for women and girls.
Monica I think it symbolized the failure of the Nazis to achieve a PURE race. By raping German women the Russians were ensuring the future of mixed races, Some of those Russians were Jews. No matter how many “undesirables” were killed by the Nazis, they were replaced with mixed races all over again. it made a mockery of the wish for a pure Aryan race.
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by Anthony Doerr (Goodreads Author)
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