All her life, Hannah Sterling longed for a close relationship with her estranged mother. Following Lieselotte’s death, Hannah determines to unlock the secrets of her mother’s mysterious past and is shocked to discover a grandfather living in Germany.
Thirty years earlier, Lieselotte’s father is quickly ascending the ranks of the Nazi party, and a proper marriage for his daughter could help advance his career. Lieselotte is in love—but her beloved Lukas is far from an ideal match, as he secretly works against the Reich. Yet Lieselotte never imagined how far her father would go to ensure her cooperation.
Both Hannah’s and Lieselotte’s stories unfold as Hannah travels to Germany to meet her grandfather, who is hiding wartimes secrets of his own. Longing for connection, yet shaken by all she uncovers, Hannah must decide if she can atone for her family’s tragic past and how their legacy will shape her future.
The first thing I have to say is that Secrets She Kept is one of my books of the year. It starts ordinarily enough, with Hannah’s teaching career in jeopardy and her being strongly encouraged to take time off. It turns out that she continued working in the immediate aftermath of her mother’s death, and the school principal thinks this has contributed to her problems at the school. A substitute is found for her and she goes to visit her father’s sister. While there, Hannah overhears a conversation that seems to suggest her mother had hid something from her. It’s only when she discovers important documents that she realizes her journey of discovery is just beginning.
From there, Cathy Gohlke takes the reader back to 1938 Berlin and the Kristallnacht atrocities. We quickly learn Lieselotte and her family have differing views regarding National Socialism and the treatment of the Jewish people. While her father and brother enthusiastically embrace the Nazi party, Lieselotte works with another family to help those the government has targeted for ‘relocation.’ The chapters then shift between time periods as Hannah tries to learn more about her mother from her grandfather. As the secrets are slowly revealed, the reader experiences the anguish of Lieselotte’s story. I knew what was coming from reading Hannah’s narrative, as well as from what I put together reading between the lines, and got that sinking feeling in my gut. I felt as helpless as Hannah must have felt when she discovered the truth about her family.
Hannah’s storyline is set in 1973. Gohlke portrays it as a period when the memories of the war are still fresh, when survivors of the camps are both proud and angry over what they went through, and when Germans are embarrassed that they perhaps didn’t do more those who suffered at Nazi hands. I am neither German nor Jewish. I’m not old enough to remember that time. I don’t have the stories of family members who lived through the war and the immediate years after it. What I can say is that Secrets She Kept has opened my eyes so that I can imagine the horror that many in Europe faced and why so many now say, “Never again.”
Thank you to Tyndale House Publishers for my complimentary copy of Secrets She Kept, which I received in exchange for my honest review.
Have you read Secrets She Kept? Do you plan to read it? Let me know your thoughts.
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication Date: 20 August 2015
Page Count: 416