Review: MOTHERLAND by Maria Hummel

I came across a review of MOTHERLAND in a magazine while I was getting my hair done a few weeks back. It looked intriguing, so I purchased it for my kindle. MOTHERLAND tells the story of a German family during WWII. Frank Kappus is a doctor who is sent into military service for Germany, helping soldiers who have suffered traumatic physical injuries. At home is his new young wife, Liesl, and his three little boys, the oldest of which is ten. Frank’s first wife died in childbirth, and the youngest boy is only a baby. Liesl tries to keep things going on the home front, while faced with dwindling rations, refugees moving in, a recalcitrant youngster, and most frightening, their middle son developing odd behaviors due to lead poisoning, with no ideas as how to help him. When doctors suggest he be institutionalized, Liesl begs her husband to come home.

This book was such an interesting read to me, largely in part because I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that presented a Nazi family as sympathetic. Generally, my WWII books have focused on the Jewish experience or the American home front. This book is loosely based on the author’s father’s experience as a young boy. Liesl does not spend much time thinking about politics, the war, or other’s experience as she is so wrapped up in just keeping going day to day. Frank gets some inkling that atrocities could be happening at a nearby concentration  camp, but he writes such ideas off as too incredible and does not investigate. I think that I have always struggled with the question: “How could the Holocaust have happened?? What were people doing that all these terrible deaths occurred right under people’s noses??” This novel in part answers that: many citizens were so caught in just surviving a day to day existence that they did not take the time to think about anything else. They followed the rule of their country without much questioning and perhaps with even thinking that some of the issues did not apply to or affect them.

This story was well-written but heart-breaking. The war pretty much destroys this family, and they are irrevocably scarred afterwards. These characters and the bleak grayness of this book stayed with me long after I was done reading. A good read, but a somber one.