Berni and Grete Metzger live at St. Luisa’s Home for Girls; for Berni, the deprivation and rules leave her longing for an exciting life, among the cabarets and exciting people of 1920s Berlin. Younger sister Grete, who is partially deaf, appreciates the structure and comparative safety of the orphanage, away from the confusing noise and colorful stimuli of the outside world. When Berni grabs at a questionable opportunity to leave, Grete refuses to go, and thus opens a decades-long rift between the sisters.
Fifty years later, in South Carolina, teenager Janeen Moore opens a letter written in German addressed to her mother, Anita. It’s an apology for things that happened in Nazi Germany, and Janeen is instantly entranced at this opportunity to learn more about her secretive mother’s past. Chapters switch between Berni, Grete, and Janeen’s perspectives, providing insight into all three characters at formative periods in their lives. Berni works in the cabarets, surrounded by gay, lesbian, and transgender friends, whose lives are in danger from the increasingly conservative government as well as curious scientists. Grete gets a housemaid position, where she is attracted to Klaus Eisler, a rising star in the Nazi party. And Janeen confronts her mother about who she is now and what happened in her childhood, trying to make sense of the little she has learned through her clandestine correspondence.
Woods brings both the characters and the multiple time periods to life, providing taunting clues about what happened during the rise of the Nazi regime in Berlin that further estranged Berni and Grete. Through Janeen, Woods brings the many threads together, in a haunting story about loyalty, love, and family secrets. Both the history as well as the psychological aspects of this page-turning read will fascinate readers.