An unforgettable novel of human kindness, inspired by an incredible true story.
Snow falls and a woman prepares for a funeral she has long expected, yet hoped would never come. As she pats her hair and straightens her skirt, she tells herself this isn’t the first time she’s lost someone. Lifting a delicate, battered wristwatch from a little box on her dresser, she presses it to her cheek. Suddenly, she’s lost in memory…
January 1945. Dachau, Germany. As the train rattles through the bright, snowy Bavarian countryside, the still beauty outside the window hides the terrible scenes inside the train, where men and women are packed together, cold and terrified. Jewish watchmaker Isaac Schüller can’t understand how he came to be here, and is certain he won’t be leaving alive.
When the prisoners arrive at Dachau concentration camp, Isaac is unexpectedly pulled from the crowd and installed in the nearby household of Senior Officer Becher and his young, pretty, spoiled wife. With his talent for watchmaking, Isaac can be of use to Becher, but he knows his life is only worth something here as long as Becher needs his skills.
Anna Reznick waits table and washes linens for the Bechers, who dine and socialise and carry on as if they don’t constantly have death all around them. When she meets Isaac she knows she’s found a true friend, and maybe more. But Dachau is a dangerous place where you can never take love for granted, and when Isaac discovers a heartbreaking secret hidden in the depths of Becher’s workshop, it will put Anna and Issac in terrible danger…
***Thanks to NetGalley and Bookouture for an eARC of this book. The following review is my honest reflection on the text provided.
solid, good read:
I know there’s a lot of historical fiction written about WWII but this is one of the good ones. Picking up near the end of the war and taking place mostly in Dachau, this is the story of two prisoners and the son of one of the senior officers.
Friedrich Becher is the young son of Senior Officer Becher. Pulled from boarding school to stay with his parents within walking distance of the concentration camp, he has no idea the atrocities happening only a stone’s throw away and elsewhere during the war. He is left alone to entertain himself most of the time as his parents become more frantic and stressed without any explanation.
Anna helps to take care of the Becher’s home. She is escorted from the camp to her work and back every day. She has lost her fiancé, her brother, and her mother, and she spends her days trying to avoid the eye of Senior Officer Becher and the anger of his increasingly unstable wife.
Isaac has managed to stay hidden for so long, it’s a surprise when he’s ambushed and brought to Dachau. The tools he is carrying reveal his skills to the guards and he is brought to the Becher’s to repair a grandfather clock. Once successful, he is kept on to repair watches taken from prisoners to be given as gifts and rewards to soldiers.
Isaac and Anna strike up a friendship on snatched conversations and small meals provided by the empathetic housekeeper. Friedrich, desperate for company, overcomes his fear caused by the Jewish propaganda to get to know Isaac and Anna while they work in his home and disappear each night to return to what he believes is a village of people like them.
Every day is a fight, a struggle to survive, and with increasingly rampant rumours about Americans coming to the rescue, the officers in the camp are becoming more cruel and frantic by the day.
A beautifully told story, the horrors of Dachau and the war are unflinchingly written in contrast and simultaneous to the love and friendship that continues to grow and thrive despite the inhumanities. Carly Schabowski writes complex characters and emotions effortlessly, making this an enjoyable read despite the content matter. For anyone else with an affinity for historical fiction, I’d recommend this well-written take on a familiar story.