The Tower House. Down a secluded path, hidden by overgrown vines, the crumbling villa echoes with memories. Of the family who laughed and sang there, until the Nazis tore them from their home. And of the next woman to walk its empty rooms, whose courage in the face of evil could alter the course of history…
Germany 1940. As secretary to the leader of the SS, Magda spends her days sending party invitations to high-ranking Nazis, and her evenings distributing pamphlets for the resistance. But Magda is leading a dangerous double life, smuggling secrets out of the office. It’s a deadly game, and eventual exposure is a certainty, but Magda is driven by a need to keep the man she secretly loves safe as he fights against the Nazis…
Forty years later. Nina’s heart pounds as she steps into an uncertain future carrying a forged passport, a few bank notes, and a scribbled address for The Tower House taken from an intricate drawing she found hidden in her grandmother’s wardrobe. Separated from her family and betrayed by her country, Nina’s last hope is to trace her family’s history in the ruins of the past her grandmother ran from. But, when she finally finds the abandoned house, she opens the door to a forgotten story, and to secrets which will change everything: past, present, and future…
Disclaimer: Although I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, the opinions below are my own.
Catherine Hokin’s new novel takes readers to 20th century Berlin, where two women opposed the government at great risk to themselves, albeit in different ways.
There’s a strong sense of foreboding from the start of The Secretary. The opening pages describe mysterious ceremonies at the home of Heinrich Himmler, where a young woman is presented with a house which once belonged to a Jewish family. She has no choice but to accept the dubious honor, even as she participates in a dangerous game to undermine the very government for which she works. Fast forward and we see her granddaughter vocally questioning the diktats of the East German government. In doing so, she risks imprisonment or worse. Is it better to disobey secretly (as Magda does) or publicly?
I found The Secretary a difficult book to put down. The parallel stories of Magda and Nina wrap around each other until they combine for an explosive conclusion. The younger generation, born into a divided Germany, must wrestle with the actions of their grandparents – actions that are only now being revealed with the fall of the Berlin Wall. At times, the book is traumatizing. Magda’s observations regarding the treatment of the Jewish people and the contrasting attitudes of high-ranking Nazis and their wives are startling. And it’s hard to not feel emotion as both Magda and Nina’s thinking is turned upside down. What can you do, after all, when what you thought was the truth turns out to be a lie? And, furthermore, what can you do when what you believed was right turns out to be a wrong set of beliefs? Aren’t we all wrestling with the changing of beliefs that were formerly set in stone even today? Meanwhile, I also wondered how complicit Magda was in the actions of the Himmler and his fellow Nazis, by doing the work she did, even though her intention was to prevent and circumvent. Should she have come forward with her knowledge after the war? Do you speak up even when doing so could put your life in danger?
In The Secretary Hokin includes real events and places, such as a Berlin neighborhood known for its anti-Nazi sentiment during the 1930s and 40s. The street where the Tower House was situated is real – I looked at both satellite and street views of it online – as is a station from where Jewish people were deported to their deaths. This is an expert coming together of both the real and imagined, to the point where I was surprised not to read that this was based or inspired by real life events and people. It’s an incredible book which I recommend to any lovers of historical family sagas. You won’t regret it.
Publication Date: 24 May 2021
Catherine Hokin is the author of two World War Two inspired novels set in Berlin, her favourite city. Following a History degree at Manchester University she worked in teaching, marketing and politics, while waiting for a chance to do what she really wanted which was to write full time. Her short stories have been published by iScot, Writers Forum and Myslexia magazines and she was the winner of the 2019 Fiction 500 Short Story Competition. She is a lover of strong female leads and a quest.
Catherine now lives in Glasgow with her American husband. She has two grown-up children – one of whom lives, very conveniently, in Berlin – and a life long addiction to very loud music.
Catherine Hokin’s Website https://www.catherinehokin.com