Friday, August 24, 2012

Flight from Berlin by David John

The blurb:
Berlin, August 1936.  As the hosts of the Summer Olympic Games, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis are determined to show off the superior new Reich they have built.  World-weary British journalist Richard Denham sees the brutality behind the carefully staged imagery and is determined to report the truth.  His view of Hitler and his henchmen is shared by the American swimmer Eleanor Emerson.  Outspoken and rebellious, the beautiful socialite got herself expelled from the U.S. team en route to the games. Now, thanks to her wealthy family's connections, she's a columnist covering the competition for newspapers back home.

While Berlin welcomes the world, the Nazi capital becomes a terrifying place for Richard and Eleanor. A chance meeting at a reception thrown by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels leads them to the center of a treacherous game involving the Gestapo and the British Secret Intelligence Service.  At stake: a mysterious dossier that threatens to expose the Third Reich's sinister plans.

Europe during the rise of Nazi power has long captured our collective imaginations.   In Flight from Berlin, David John takes us to Nazi Germany during the 1936 Olympics.  The story unfolds from the points of view of two unlikely heroes, British journalist Richard Denham and privileged Olympic athlete Eleanor Emerson.  

Richard Denham is a British journalist living in Berlin well acquainted with the changes in Germany.  During a reporting assignment about travel on the Hindenburg, Denham meets Friedrich Christian a gay actor with a fondness for the counterculture of old Berlin with its warm boys and hot jazz.  As Denham and Christian talk about the changes in Germany, we get a fuller sense of the openness of the Weimar Republic and how this has suddenly changed as Hitler and the Nazi Party have cracked down on the "undesirables".   While Denham clearly disagrees with the Nazi agenda, he hadn't planned on getting involved in German politics. The growing cruelty and attacks on innocents grates on Denham and it seems clear that he won't be able to remain neutral. Somehow, either through his friends or his enemies, Denham attracts attention.  

Eleanor Emerson comes to the same place through a different route.  At the start of the novel, Eleanor Emerson is far from political.  When her father, Senator Emerson, suggests that she refuse to participate because sending athletes "will be condoning, lending respectability to the most iniquitous, the most unconscionable regime..." she shakes him off.  Eleanor has worked hard for the chance to compete and fully intends to do so.   Her Park Avenue pedigree and high spirits get her into deep trouble and put her in the position of seeing the Olympics in another light.  As Eleanor learns of how the German organizers have removed and threatened Jewish athletes, Eleanor finds herself getting personally involved.  

Denham and Emerson meet at a society event and they  connect. When they cover the Berlin Olympics, they meet Jewish fencer Hannah Liebermann.  As Denham and Emerson learn how the Liebermanns are treated, their sense of fairness leads them to take matters into their own hands - and opens up a world of danger.  

David John's Flight from Berlin is well researched and complex - a fun, fascinating read.

ISBN-10: 0062091565 - Hardcover $24.99
Publisher: Harper (July 10, 2012), 384 pages. 
Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program and the publisher.

About the Author:
David John worked as an in-house lawyer and editor for the British publisher Dorling Kindersley. He lives in London.  This is his first novel. 

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