Broken Angels

Written by Gemma Liviero
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In the Lodz ghetto in 1942, young Elsi is awakened by her mother, who is moaning and bleeding from a self-inflicted abortion. Elsi helps her mother get to the hospital, where she’s treated by Doctor Willem Gerhardt, who, despite being the son of a high-ranking Nazi official, privately disagrees with the regime’s policies. While Elsi joins a resistance group and is subsequently imprisoned, Willem is posted to a children’s home, where Aryan-looking youngsters are taught German ways. Willem continues his recalcitrant behavior by taking risks and falsifying documents to save children from death camps. There he protects a little blonde, blue-eyed girl, Matilda, a Romanian abductee, and later, in a prison, he saves a very sick Elsi from being exterminated. As Hitler’s armies sweep across Europe, fate brings these three ‘broken angels’ together. Readers will be hooked while they learn of their destiny.

As in the theological story of “The Angel with a Broken Wing,” here the ‘broken angels’ are saved from darkness, adversity, hate, and seemingly hopeless situations and healed through love and sacrifices. Liviero continues with her exposition of Hitler’s Generalplan Ost program, which was begun in her earlier novel, Pastel Orphans. Broken Angels is similarly narrated in the first-person voices of the three main characters. The horrors of WWII and the terrible hardships faced by innocent civilians incarcerated in the ghettos, concentration camps, prisons, and elsewhere are vividly recounted. However, it sounds somewhat odd to have three dissimilar protagonists, particularly in terms of age, speaking in similar voices. Also, the lack of colloquialism in the dialogue, for individuals of differing backgrounds, requires effort in transporting our minds to that period. Nevertheless, this is another prodigious novel that presents the dreadfulness of the Holocaust.