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Two outstanding novels of love and courage have caught my attention this past week. They both deal to some extent with the emotional damage left behind by violence and abuse. The first, Trapped in East Germany, by Carolyn Twede Frank is the story of a very young child who grows up in war torn East Germany in the 1940s. The second, The Dragons of Alsace Farm by Laurie Lewis, tells the story of the struggles faced by four people facing different life altering tragedies; one cancer, one Alzheimer’s, one abuse, and one neglect. Both of these books are well-written glimpses of the struggles faced by all people in their quests for love, liberty, safety and a place to call home.
TRAPPED IN EAST GERMANY by Carolyn Twede Frank
Karin Graeber is only five years old in 1943 when she becomes keenly aware of the conflict swirling around her home in Berlin, Germany. A bomb leaves the apartment she shares with her mother and older sister uninhabitable. Left homeless, the threesome struggle to reach Dresden where her uncle lives. She doesn’t know if she will ever see her dear Pappa again since he was conscripted into the Army and it has been many months since Mutti last heard from him.
When they reach Dresden they learn her uncle already has another family living with him and has no room for them, but he arranges for them to share a farm house with another family outside of the city. They move into three small, cramped rooms and are resented by the family that already lives in the rest of the house. Food is scarce and the only work the mother can find is on a farm where the farmer pays her in produce instead of cash and she is only needed during the summer. Attending school involves a long walk and church is a three hour hike away. They watch as the Allies bomb Dresden and life grows harder as the conquering Russian Army camps nearby. The soldiers consider the women and girls the spoils of war necessitating Karin’s mother and sister hide each night. With the occupation, restrictions on personal liberty are tightened and Karin wonders if she should simply join the communist youth group as it would make her life a little easier or continue to seek liberty and trust in God.
Karin grows up during the occupation and as communism takes over and freedom disappears, she dreams of escape. Her sister is given a good job and her mother works hard for her brother, but food is still scarce, education inadequate, and she has no friends. Escape seems to be the only solution, but is filled with danger.
The character Karin Graeber is modeled after a real woman, Karen Graeber Adam. The horrible privations and losses she survived during the war and after were incorporated into the story. Karin is believable, both as a child and later as a teenager or young woman. The other characters are also realistic both in their heroic moments and when they make mistakes or commit despicable acts. It’s easy to admire Karin’s mother who often went without food so her children could have a few more bites of nourishment. She never gave up, but did all she could to protect and feed her girls as well as others who were sometimes dependent on her. Night after night she hid in dog houses, under beehives, and other random places with her older daughter to protect her from the rampaging Russian soldiers who drunkenly raped and sometimes murdered women and girls in the neighborhood. Through it all she stayed faithful to the Gospel and taught her girls to pray and have faith. Like Alma and his brethren (Mosiah 24: 15) their faith enabled them to bear the difficulties they faced and made their loads lighter.
Fictionalized accounts of real events tend to be romanticized or have wobbly plots. Not so, this time. Readers will enjoy Karin’s journey of faith as well as a plot that moves steadily toward a child’s desire for freedom. Readers will be spellbound by this glimpse of life in East Germany during the turbulent war years and the depressing post war time.
Carolyn Twede Frank is a successful entrepreneur who sold her business six years ago to devote her time to writing. Her first published novel, The Hitler Dilemma, was highly acclaimed. This second novel also deals with World War II. She is the mother of five children. In addition to writing she gardens, renovates houses, and spends as much time as possible with her grandchildren.
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TRAPPED IN EAST GERMANY by Carolyn Twede Frank, published by Covenant Communications, 295 pages, soft cover $16.99. Also available for e-Readers.
THE DRAGONS OF ALSACE FARM by Laurie Lewis
Two adults with horrendous childhoods that have left deep scars are drawn together at Alsace Farm, a farm owned by an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer’s. Noah Carter was physically and emotionally abused by his father, then at eighteen eloped with a young Quaker girl who had second thoughts before morning. Upset, Noah crashes his vehicle and winds up in jail where he is beaten and molested by the other inmates. No one, not even the uncle he’d hero-worshipped all of his life comes to his rescue. For ten years he disappears into a world of substance abuse and bare existence living until the uncle, who is dying of cancer finally locates him. He returns to his uncle’s home where they make a shaky start to re-establishing their old relationship and the uncle encourages him to start a business of his own as a craftsman woodworker. He also pushes him into working for and repairing a nearby farm for an elderly widow who survived World War II as a child in France.
Tayte Donnelly is the child of two hippie artists who drifted around the country, mostly ignoring her, and caring more about drugs than for her. The happiest time of her childhood occurred when she was eight and her mother left her for two months with her grandmother. This idyllic time ended when her parents came for her and abruptly took her away, then informed her her grandmother was dead. Her own talent as an artist is beginning to garner recognition when she is notified, her parents have been killed in an accident, and her grandmother is alive, but has dementia and that as the woman’s only relative she has to see to some legal matters. Though the old woman doesn’t know who she is, Tayte decides to stay on the farm and care for her grandmother.
Agnes Devereaux Keller hides a secret in her attic. She has spent her life hiding from dragons, not living fire-breathing dragons, but powerful secrets, secrets concerning the Nazis, a daughter who ran away years ago, a man who betrayed her, her father, an old love, a spiteful, calculating woman, and so much more. If only she could remember which day it is and whether or not she fed the goats. She adores the young man who comes to help her, but wants nothing to do with the bossy young woman who cleans her house and throws away her anchors to reality.
This is a story of two injured people, picking up the fragments of their lives, and struggling to make sense of their pasts and build a much better future. It highlights the damage caused by poor, selfish parenting, and the difficulty of rising above past hurt, guilt, failures, misunderstanding, and oppression. It’s also a story of hope and determination.
Lewis has created outstanding characters who realistically portray the characteristics of the particular dragons each is fighting whether it is physical or emotional. Agnes’s dementia is very real as is the uncle’s cancer. So too, are the emotional flaws the two main characters carry from their years of physical or emotional abuse. The two young people learn a great deal about themselves and about love through the things they learn from Agnes. Love draws Agnes back from the terrible black abyss of dementia and love is the gift the uncle struggles to leave Noah, his wife, and his sons.
As four people struggle with the “dragons” in their lives, this multi-pronged story melds the plot line of each character’s story into an overall one of overcoming adversity, recognizing the worth of all individuals, and never giving up on the hope for love and belonging.
Laurie Lewis was born and raised in Maryland. She and her husband still live there where she enjoys the rich history of that region. They are the parents of four children. She has authored seven other novels, most dealing with patriotic or historical themes.
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THE DRAGONS OF ALSACE FARM by Laurie Lewis, published by Willowsport Press, 356 pages, soft cover $13.53. Also available for e-Readers.