German Embassy Book Club's Reviews > The Hangmans Daughter

The Hangmans Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch
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really liked it
bookshelves: contemporary-german-lit, books-set-in-germany

** spoiler alert ** The opening line of Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch - “October 12 was a good day for killing” - was the perfect hook into the Hangman's world, and at once I got the feeling that he was a more complicated than simply a man with an ax. Opening the book with a death can sometimes be a trick to shock the reader from the start, but Pötzsch's rich descriptions coupled with the almost clinical way he describes the steps leading up to the execution made it an exciting start. The prologue ended with a promise Jakob made to himself: that he would never follow in his father's footsteps.

Of course, Jakob did end up becoming an executioner, just like his father. He makes similar mistakes as his father throughout the book. He cares too much for his victims, he drinks too much, he disconnects from the real world. Still, there is such an honest, human side of Jakob that is hard not to like. Pötzsch does a great job of separating the man with his deeds, and in doing so challenges the reader's beliefs. Yes, he is an executioner, but does that necessarily mean he is evil? Meanwhile, the characters we are supposed to trust, like Semer and Lechner and other authority figures, I found myself disliking early on. All of the characters, from Simon to Jakob, to Stechlin, were extremely well-developed.

Like many other reviewers, the title did bother me a bit at first, because I expected Magdalena to take on more of a hero role than she did. Jakob was the real force that drove the plot, and to me “The Hangman” would be just as dramatic a title as “The Hangman's Daughter.” Magdalena was a fascinating character in general, so I hope she comes back with a bigger role in the sequels. Another character I would have liked to know more about is the midwife, Martha Stechlin. She plays a pivotal role in the book, but I didn't feel like I knew anything about her past or day-to-day life. It was difficult to judge her from snippets of conversation and a few damning actions.

Overall, I enjoyed “The Hangman's Daughter” and will definitely pick up the sequel. For me, the most important theme was innocence, in every sense of the world. The role of children and how children are raised, the role of medicine, and the role of the law all came down to the question of innocence. Pötzsch opens questions, but doesn’t spoon-feed the answers, which is also refreshing.

In terms of historical accuracy, I can't speak to the probability of a hangman having access to medical textbooks or even being able to read, but it seemed believable while I was reading it, which is the most important thing for me. I like that Pötzsch includes on a side note that he is writing about his own ancestors. It made the entire story much more believable to me. All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys mystery and historical fiction.

Review by Lauren Rogers, Press Officer at the German Embassy Washington
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Quotes German Embassy Book Club Liked

Oliver Pötzsch
“In the past few years, genealogical research has become increasingly popular. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that we are trying, in a world of increasing complexity, to create a simpler and more understandable place for ourselves. No longer do we grow up in large families. We feel increasingly estranged, replaceable, and ephemeral. Genealogy gives us a feeling of immortality. The individual dies; the family lives on.”
Oliver Pötzsch, The Hangman's Daughter


Reading Progress

April 23, 2014 – Shelved
April 23, 2014 – Shelved as: contemporary-german-lit
June 13, 2014 – Started Reading
June 16, 2014 – Shelved as: books-set-in-germany
June 16, 2014 – Finished Reading

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