Publication Date: June 1, 2021
Maggie’s father dies and friends and family of her mother encourage her to ask her mother about her past. When she does, Maggie learns of the struggles her mother (Lola) faced as a Jewish woman in Nazi-era Germany and the extreme odds she faced of survival when the Nazi’s literally came to the door in the form of the son of the woman hiding Lola and her sister, Heidi, in her attic.
If you look at the Amazon description of The Girls in the Attic, its the story of Max Wolffe. Max’s father was a minister who spoke out against Hitler and was taken away when Max was young. The official story is that his father died in prison and Max’s devotion to the protection of the motherland and master race came at the hands of a Nazi who took the boy under his wing when he was tortured everyday as a result of what he believed was his father’s treason. When Max returns home after having suffered a head injury at the Russian front for what he thinks will be a recovery break, he finds that his mother has concealed two young Jewish women in his home. The only thing keeping Max from going to local authorities to turn the women in is that he knows that his mother will also be taken into custody.
Once you get a sense of the setting, The Girls in the Attic actually goes exactly where readers will expect it to go. As Max gets to know the women they open his eyes to the atrocity of the War and their confidence that the Allies are coming moves his belief in the dominance of the Reich. Max starts to question his staunch views about Jewish people and his blind faith in the military expertise of Hitler. There are several navel gazing epiphanies from Max and Lola.
As much as the book is billed as the story of Max, it’s really the story of Lola Rosenstein. Lola starts out, despite having been moved from home to home with her sister for their protection, a little recklessly angry. She hates Max and everything he stands for. Heidi is her voice of reason but the young woman is just angry. As time goes on, she becomes circumspect and, once they start to move through war-torn Germany, a bit world weary. The idea of death as a rest is something we hear from many survivors and rang very true. That it is Lola telling the story, the omniscient look into Max’s thought process and private conversations between Heidi and Max’s mother, Magda, are a choice. While Max’s thought process and transitions may play as an excuse for the relationship that develops between Max and Lola (not a spoiler. ANYONE reading this book will expect it), it’s not something our narrator would know and that bothers me more than it should especially as she slips into first person in the epilogue. From Lola the epiphanies tend to be regarding the hearts of man and the lack of control in her own life. From Max, they are grand gestures toward a changing attitude toward people and generally the enemies of existence that serve to romanticize him. Considering that we’re seeing him from the memory of an old woman, it makes sense that she would remember him as he should have been.
Though quite predictable, the story is interesting and the characters engaging. As odd as it may sound, Lola starts as a bit of a reckless young woman. She was protected by her parents and then protected by Heidi and ultimately protected by Max. She has suffered living in the slums and she knows what her sister went through to keep her safe but as she grows in the sense of the novel, she becomes more circumspect understanding how lucky she’s been to survive.
I enjoyed The Girls in the Attic. I have seen the reviews that cite errors. There were errors but I did not find them distracting. The story was not of the quality that I’ll seek out other books by Gabriel but it was a good, solid read and one that makes some very good points. Pick it up and let me know what you think.
Read an excerpt and buy The Girls in the Attic by Marius Gabriel on