Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for People Like Us by Louise Fein. If you’re a fan of gripping, emotional reads and have a penchant for WWII fiction that challenges your perceptions and makes you step into the shoes of complex characters, then this one might just be for you!
Title: People Like Us.
Author: Louise Fein
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication Date: May 7, 2020
Genre: Historical Fiction, WWII Fiction
Themes: WWII, Coming of Age, Family Dynamics, First Love, Religious Persecution
‘I nearly drowned, and Walter rescued me. That changes everything.’
Leipzig, 1930’s 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 risk have to risk everything to save Walter, even if it means sacrificing herself.
People like us is one of those books where there’s a huge benefit to reading the author’s note before diving into the text. As historical fiction, with inspiration drawn from real events, the note does wonders when it comes to clearly delineating the truth from the imagined, fact from fiction. I made the mistake of waiting before I read the note, and my initial impression of the first 10 chapters was that I had agreed to read something written by a sympathizer. Readers, let me be clear, this is not the case! Once I was aware that Fein sought to create a narrative that encapsulated the coming of age and the onset of critical thinking in a young woman who was raised indoctrinated into the Nazi ideology, this actually became a particularly enjoyable story. Watching Hetty grow up, grow aware of the lies, and grow rebellious, all of it urged along by the innocence of young love and human connection made for a deeply emotional reading experience.
It was discomforting at first to be reading from the perspective of someone with close ties to the SS and the Nazi party. The vast majority of the WWII fiction that I read is either from the perspective of survivors or resistance fighters, so stepping into Hetty’s shoes was a challenging experience as both her perspectives and experiences were so far from what I’ve come to expect. And as far as I’m concerned, this is a good thing.
Initially I found Hetty to be a rather spoiled and self-centred protagonist, at one point I even wrote in my notes ‘this girl is horrible.’ She makes some truly atrocious decisions that legitimately left me screaming WHY, though the sad reality is that her behaviour is exactly what was expected of upstanding citizens of the time. Thankfully, as her character develops it becomes clear that Hetty is, in fact, a good person who was just caught up in the rhetoric sweeping the nation. Every person she meets has a profound impact on her life – whether it’s the boy down the road that she seeks to protect, her friend Erna who challenges her assumptions and perceptions of the world, and even her father’s mistress who is both tearing their family apart and holding it together at the same time. Hetty ‘s personal journey is absolutely astounding, and I adored that at the end of it she occupied a glorious grey space that forced some serious introspection.
Walter too occupies some moral grey areas, though not nearly as shaded as his darling. He knowingly breaks the law, steals to feed his family, and becomes involved with a woman he doesn’t love as a means to exit the country before the war. But he is also the perfect person to challenge Hetty’s fervent belief in the Fuhrer. He is supposed to be the villain, according to everything Hetty has been raised to believe, but he is ultimately good. I really appreciated that he was a little bit older than her, and that he brought a lot of knowledge and lived experiences into their relationship. Without his intervention Hetty would still be living in a sheltered, idealistic world, blind to the realities of where the world was heading.
The contrast between the two sweethearts was exceptionally well done, and I was always on the edge of my seating wondering if they would get caught and what the repercussions would be. There was an ever-present sense of danger that mingled subtly with the realities of two teens falling in forbidden love. Everything about it felt so dang real!
I should note that I was thrown, though, buy the casual ways in which Hetty, a teenaged girl was talking about concentration camps as early as 1933. This prompted m to put down the book and take a short visit to some online newspaper archives, where I quickly discovered that these camps were indeed common knowledge and even the frequent subject of publications and speeches for many years before the onset of the war. And by golly, I do love it when not only does a book make me question pretty much everything, but also when I walk away from a work of fiction having learned something real.
If you’re looking for some WWII fiction from a different perspective and that will challenge you in a multitude of ways, give People Like Us a try! This character driven story will works it’s way under your skin and leave you wanting more.
About the Author
Louise Fein holds an MA in Creative Writing from St Mary’s University. Prior to studying for her master’s, she ran a commodity consultancy business following a career in banking and law. She lives in Surrey with her family. People Like Us is inspired by her family history, and by the alarming parallels she sees between the early 30s and today.
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Many thanks to Victoria Joss at Head of Zeus for inviting me to participate in the Blog Tour. I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinions.