People Like Us
By Louise Fein
Leipzig, 1930s Germany.
Hetty Heinrich is a perfect German child. Her father is an SS officer, her brother in the Luftwaffe, herself a member of the BDM. She believes resolutely in her country, and the man who runs it.
Until Walter changes everything. Blond-haired, blue-eyed, perfect in every way Walter. The boy who saved her life. A Jew.
Anti-semitism is growing by the day, and neighbours, friends and family members are turning on one another. As Hetty falls deeper in love with a man who is against all she has been taught, she begins to fight against her country, her family and herself. Hetty will have to risk everything to save Walter, even if it means sacrificing herself...
“These are difficult times. That’s why Vati does all this work for the SS as well as running the newspaper. They must protect Hitler and ban all the parties that seek to oppose him. Pick your friends carefully, Hetty. Stick only with good Germans, like us. Do you understand?”
Hetty Heinrich does understand. After all, Hitler lives inside her skull, telling her what she should and should not do. She would never disappoint him by mixing with bad Germans.
However, when her childhood hero, Walter, is made an example of in front of the whole school because he is a Jew, Hetty feels a moment of rebellion. He is her friend. He will always be her friend.
With Walter now firmly banished from their lives, Hetty becomes indoctrinated with Nazi ideology, but she still cannot forget that blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy from her childhood.
A chance meeting with Walter, several years later, leaves Hetty questioning everything she thought she knew. Now she faces the greatest battle of her life. To save a life, she must silence Hitler’s voice in her head once and for all...
From a near fateful drowning to a reunion that was decades in the making, People Like Us by Louise Fein is the heartbreakingly enthralling story of one young woman who dared to stand up to the Nazi regime to save the life of the man she loved.
People Like Us is an emotionally charged story that gripped me from the opening sentence and held my attention to the last full stop. With a rich and realistic historical backdrop, Fein has presented her readers with a tale that is not only unputdownable but one that is unforgettable.
We first meet Hetty when she is an adorable seven-year-old child who has a severe case of hero-worship towards her brother’s best friend. We watch as she grows up into a young teen who idolises Hitler, and like many others during this time, Hetty subconsciously seeks out potential enemies of the Reich. This, however, changes when she is reunited with Walter. Despite what she has been told about the filthy Jews, Hetty cannot bring herself to think that way about Walter. With Walter’s gentle yet honest explanations, Hetty’s eyes are opened and what she sees shakes the very foundations of her life and belief. Hetty is a very conflicted protagonist who, when she realises that she has been fed a dish of lies, does her utmost to help those whom the Nazis blame for everything. Her relationship with Walter is heartrendingly tender. Hetty is a character that really touched my heart. She is this brave and wonderful young woman who will do absolutely anything for the man she loves, including risking her own life and happiness. Her great sacrifice is lessened by the fact that if she had to do it all over again, she would, and by losing everything she finds a truer version of herself.
Walter is a wonderfully brave hero who faces so much adversity in this book, but he does not let that change his gentle and loving nature. I adored everything about Walter. He is kind, considerate, and he absolutely adores Hetty. His desperate desire to live a normal life, to spend time with his girl, is taken from him by a cruel, narcissistic regime which has to blame someone for all of Germany's failures, so why not the Jews? Walter suffers terribly in this novel — the things he witnesses, the things that he experiences, are truly dreadful, and it would have been very easy for him to see in Hetty all that was wrong with Germany, but he does not. He is a genuinely caring person who I could not help but admire.
People Like Us is a story that has been meticulously researched. The hours that Fein has spent researching this era shines clearly through the enthralling narrative and the lyrical prose. The depiction of Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in 1938 was particularly well-drawn. Fein also demonstrates how quickly the ideology of Hitler and his Nazi Party spread through Germany like a sadistic sort of Blitzkrieg. The idea that Hitler explored in Mein Kampf about the ‘Big Lie’ that the Jews so-called told is ironic when one considers the lies he used to turn a nation against its Jewish inhabitants. The relationship between Walter and Karl, Hetty’s brother, shows how easily dismissed life-long friends were, and despite Walter having once saved Hetty’s life, he is now seen by Hetty’s parents as an inferior being who is suddenly the enemy of the state for no other reason than his ancestry. Informing on parents, neighbours, friends became a new normal, and one that Hetty strongly believes in until she discovers the truth of what is happening in these so-called political prison camps, but even then, Hitler’s voice still makes her doubt the truth. There is one very emotional scene when Hetty can no longer bear to look upon the portrait of Hitler she has hanging in her bedroom and so she takes it down and hides it. This small act of defiance is the beginning of a dangerous and uncertain future for Hetty and one that she can never turn back from.
This book is an emotional journey, so have some tissues at hand while you read it. Fein certainly has a novelist intuition into the human condition — its fragility and its strength. But on top of this, Fein also has a keen eye on what makes a book entertaining — what makes a reader want to turn those pages and keep reading. This is the kind of book a reader can lose themselves in and it is near on impossible to put down.
If you are a lover of quality World War II Historical Fiction then People Like Us by Louise Fein is a book that not only deserves a place on your bookshelf, but it is also one that demands to be read over and over again.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
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People Like Us
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Louise Fein was born and brought up in London. She harboured a secret love of writing from a young age, preferring to live in her imagination than the real world. After a law degree, Louise worked in Hong Kong and Australia, travelling for a while through Asia and North America before settling back to a working life in London. She finally gave in to the urge to write, taking an MA in creative writing, and embarking on her first novel, Daughter of the Reich (named People Like Us in the UK and Commonwealth edition). The novel was inspired by the experience of her father's family, who escaped from the Nazis and arrived in England as refugees in the 1930's. Louise lives in the beautiful English countryside with her husband, three children, small dog and the local wildlife who like to make an occasional appearance in the house