Sunday, September 16, 2007
Perfidia - Elspeth McKendrick
Romantic Suspense/Historical Romance
In 1937, Sophie de Havilland left England for Germany once she discovered the shocking truth about her fiancé, vowing never to return. For the past two years, she’s lived in Berlin with her Aunt Augusta, widow of a German Baron. Sophie admires the way the German government has pulled Germany out of the complete chaos that followed World War I. According to Herr Hitler, SS officers have a duty to procreate both in and out of marriage with young Aryan woman, the better to increase the Aryan race. When war is declared in September of 1939, Sophie, like many others, assumes that Germany will win quickly and that their lives will remain mostly undisturbed.
In the days leading up the declaration of open war, Aunt Augusta asks Sophie to help her leave the country. Augusta wants Sophie to come with her, but Sophie refuses. An incredibly clumsy attempt at blackmail puts Sophie in the hands of an intimidating SS officer, Karl von Richten. Karl agrees to help smuggle Augusta out of Germany, but demands payment. Sophie must move into his home, live with him, and pose as his mistress. Such arrangements carry no stigma after Hitler’s edict, but Sophie is wary. Only when Karl promises that she will be a mistress in appearance only does she agree. Karl tells Sophie in no uncertain terms to stay out of his business, but Sophie becomes curious. Her curiosity could get them both killed.
I admit that, at the outset, I wanted to shake Sophie for her incredibly naïve and myopic view of the Nazi regime. Then I realized that, as a member of the aristocracy, and as someone who enjoyed the good favor of high-ranking officials, Sophie would be mostly sheltered from the horrible realities. It’s amazing that the author manages to take this rather selfish woman and turn her into a heroine with a spine and a brain; in short, a character who is likeable. But that’s what happens here. Sometime around the midpoint of the story, I realized that I was rooting for Sophie.
The story takes place between September and November of 1939, the very early days of what would become World War II. Set in Berlin, the reader gets a rare inside glimpse of the enemy camp during this time. Even characters who are dedicated to the Nazi ideals do not come off as caricatures. They’re real people, caught up in events that are too overwhelming to comprehend. It’s obvious that quite a lot of research went into this novel, and each chapter begins with a date and the historical highlights. It’s fascinating to juxtapose what we know now to the actions and beliefs of the characters who are “living” through the events. The romance is lovely, but it’s really the historical context that makes this one a real standout.
posted by Deborah Hern