Flight from Berlin by David John
Published: 2012 by Harper
Source: Received ARC from publisher for review
Flight from Berlin is a historical novel that plays with history a little bit. Beginning with the 1936 Berlin Olympics and ending with the Hindenburg disaster, David John spins some very interesting what-if scenarios of real events and creates a thrilling story.
The main characters are Richard Denham, a British journalist; and Eleanor Emerson, an American swimmer who is disqualified from the Berlin Games for some questionable behavior on the ship taking the U.S. team to Germany. With the Nazi Party putting their best face forward to the world and suppressing their totalitarian methods (in public, at least), Denham and Emerson (though no longer an athlete, she is still comes to Berlin, now with press credentials) combine to publicize the story of Hannah Liebermann, the sole Jewish athlete on the German team who is forced to participate against her will when her family is threatened.
Meanwhile, Denham is also approached by a British colleague about a dossier that, if found, would prove highly embarrassing to Adolf Hitler and his regime. It appears that Denham is being recruited to accept delivery of this dossier, but before he learns any more about it, he is arrested by the Gestapo. He is brutally beaten and tortured in custody, but he is eventually released without providing any information about it (because he didn’t know anything more than the dossier supposedly exists).
These two plotlines are linked, though it takes time to figure out how, and it is a thrill to read about the situations in which Denham and Emerson find themselves. John does a good job of mixing these characters into events that really happened and with real-life characters; for example William Dodd, Ambassador to Berlin, and his daughter Martha (subjects of Erik Larson’s fascinating book In the Garden of Beasts). Since he does create his own interpretation of how certain events may or may not have happened, one must suspend disbelief while reading this book; that’s not to say that that his scenes are done poorly, they’re not, it’s just that you have to “forget” what really happened at times for the sake of the story.
I enjoyed this book, not only because it is set in a period of history that interests me, but also because it created such suspense that it was hard for me to put down when I really HAD to go do something else (like work). And with the London Olympics about to begin, it is a nice book to read for that part of the history as well.
For other opinions about this book, check out the other stops on this tour.