When a private plane crashes in Florida in 1991, the surviving pilot makes the strangest of remarks. “It was World War II,” he says. The National Transportation Safety Board attributes the accident to a collision with birds, but one stubborn investigator insists on going further. Before long, his inquiry reveals how the pilot’s past had trailed him on his last flight and vividly brings to life a terrifying slice of history–the story of a German boy who grows up in Berlin before, during, and after the Second World War; sadistic teachers just call him Five. The boy’s father, an opponent of the Nazis, ends up in a concentration camp and later in a penal regiment that marches through mine fields to clear the way for regular troops. In contrast, one of the boy’s uncles is a fervent Nazi in charge of cleansing Hitler’s capital of every last Jew; another uncle revels in the governance of Paris. A favorite aunt, a confidential secretary at the Gestapo, is horrified by all she knows about the “final solution.” The boy’s mother is the one who keeps him sane when Spitfire guns kill his best friend standing right next to him on a bridge. But worse is to come: bombings and firestorms, the senseless sacrifice of children and old men in the battle of Berlin, the Soviet occupation, along with rape, murder, hunger, and disease, and then the emergence of a new kind of tyranny yet. In the end, we come upon an unexpected twist that shows how the consequences of war can emerge decades later and in faraway places.
Reactions from early readers:
“A psychological tour de force”
“An extraordinary family story”
“Unflinching, stark, and painfully compelling”
“A haunting chronicle of war and its aftermath”
“In novelistic form, this is a riveting child's-eye account of growing up in Germany under the Nazis and then the Russians. Laced with extraordinary photos and posters from those times, it combines memory with testimony."
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