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June 1, 2022

Shadows of Berlin by David R. Gillham ~ a Review

by Susan Roberts

"You didn't have a single person in your family poisoned in a gas chamber." (p 59)

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.
book cover of WWII historical fiction novel Shadows of Berlin by David R. Gillham
April 2022; Sourcebooks Landmark; 978-1728250441
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); historical fiction

A captivating novel of a Berlin girl on the run from the guilt of her past and the boy from Brooklyn who loves her.

The novel starts in 1955 in New York City where Rachel lives with her husband Aaron.  Rachel has only been in the United States for several years after entering the country from Germany as a displaced person with her uncle, her only family left alive after the war.  She tries to acclimate to life in New York as a housewife but is consumed with her memories of wartime Berlin and the survivor's guilt that haunts her.

Even though Rachel is living what should be a happy life with her husband, her memories are easily triggered about her life in Berlin during the war.  Her husband had been in the Army during the war but never left the US and she tells him constantly that he has no idea of what it was like to be a Jew in Berlin during the she and her mother, a famous painter, hid in plain sight and tried not to be discovered by the she never had enough food and rarely had a bed to sleep in.  Every day was a struggle and when she and her mother were discovered by the Gestapo, life got much worse as they struggled to stay alive despite the ever-growing threats to their lives.  Now she's in New York and can buy food, travel around town, dress well, and always has a place to sleep.  Her husband loves her and tries to make her happy but she is so overwhelmed with her survivor's guilt that she isn't able to truly return his love.  Her mind is constantly remembering her life in Germany with her mother and it takes very little for her to remember her past.

When her uncle calls and tells her that he's found one of her mother's paintings at a pawnshop, she has to see it despite the memories that it brings.  Rachel believed that all of her mother's paintings were destroyed by the Germans.  She tries to buy it but someone else buys it first.  Rachel is also an artist but won't return to her painting because she feels that her talent is nothing compared to her mother.  Aaron tries to help her acclimate to her life in New York but is not successful.  He would love to have children but doesn't push the issue because she just doesn't feel like she can bring a child into this world or be a good mother to her child.

I read many WWII era books but this is the first one I've read that takes such an introspective look at a survivor of the war and the way they deal with their guilt  - not only that they survived and others didn't but also their thoughts that they could have done something - anything to save people that they loved.  This is a beautiful look at loss and love and learning to live with memories of the past.

Shadows of Berlin is a fantastic, well-written book about survival, redemption, and learning to love again - not only your family but more importantly yourself.  This book haunted me after I finished it and I was unable to start a new book for a few days.  Even weeks after I finished it, I still think about Rachel and her valiant struggle to learn from her past and not allow her past memories to control her current life.

Buy Shadows of Berlin at Amazon

Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina with her husband of over 50 years.  She grew up in Michigan but now calls North Carolina home. She enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with her family. She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and historical fiction. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on Facebook.

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  1. Thank you for this wonderful review!

    1. David Gillham

    2. Thank you for the compliment. It was a fantastic book!