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October 22, 2023

The Woman at the Wheel by Penny Haw ~ A Review

by Susan Roberts

Inspiring historical fiction based on the real life of Bertha Benz, whose husband built the first prototype automobile, which eventually evolved into the Mercedes-Benz.  

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

book cover of biographical fiction novel The Woman at the Wheel by Penny Haw
October 2023; Sourcebooks Landmark; 978-1728257730
audio, ebook, print (320 pages); biographical fiction

I enjoy reading historical fiction and learning about little-known women in history who actually had a great impact on events in their time.  Woman at the Wheel is based on the life of  Bertha Ringer and her life in Germany in the mid-1800s.  She came from a large family but even in her younger days, she was more interested in her father's work as a builder and less interested in girly things like planning her trousseau.  At 10 she read her father's comments in the family Bible after her name 'Unfortunately, just a girl again' and she vowed that she'd be more than just a girl and lived her life being interested in building and inventing, things that girls didn't do at the time.

As Bertha got older and her two older sisters married, her parents began to try to find a husband for her.  The problem was that she just wasn't interested in the men of the day who expected her to be fulfilled by taking care of a home and catering to their husbands.  One day she meets Carl Benz and falls in love with the inventor and dreamer.  She is in love not only with him but also his extraordinary dream of building a horseless carriage.   Her parents aren't happy with him but when they see how happy she is, they agree to give her not only her dowry but also her inheritance to help him start a small company where he can continue to pursue his dream.  She loves spending time working with him while he creates various parts of his horseless carriage and it isn't until she starts having children that her life becomes more similar to women in this time period.  But she began working behind the scenes in their lives to help promote her husband and his invention.  No matter how many failures Carl had and how much derision his ideas were viewed by other people, Bertha remained his strongest supporter and continued to work to help him and their family achieve his dream.  Were they successful?  Look at the name of their company again -- Benz motorcars and you'll realize that their company was the beginning of the Mercedes Benz company!   After reading the book and seeing all that Bertha did to help her husband achieve his dream, I don't think he'd have been successful without her.

Bertha was a woman before her time.  She not only supported her husband as he worked to achieve his dreams, she went into the shop and got greasy helping him build things.  She was a strong and tenacious woman who definitely thought outside the norm of women in this day and age.  

I thought that this book was a well-written and well-researched book about a woman whose name has been lost in history but who made a great contribution.  It's time for her memory to shine along with that of her husband.

Susan Roberts grew up in Michigan but loves the laid-back life at her home in the Piedmont area of North Carolina where she is two hours from the beach to the east and the mountains in the west.  She reads almost anything but her favorite genres are Southern Fiction and Historical Fiction.   

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