That Summer in Berlin

Written by Lecia Cornwall
Review by Dorothy Schwab

Lecia Cornwall’s That Summer in Berlin is a close-up view of the 1936 Berlin Olympics through the lens of two debutantes on a holiday filled with terrible risks but great rewards. This compelling novel immerses readers from the beginning of the well-staged opening of the Olympics through the 1940 Battle of Dunkirk. Readers are submerged in different societal classes, opposing familial expectations, and varying political views and goals.

In the 1930s, the expectation of young upper-class women was to marry and produce heirs, not pursue careers. Cornwall explores this expectation through the main character, Viviane Alden. A secretly aspiring photographer, Viviane meets journalist Tom Graham, a well-educated Scotsman hired to appear as a Fascist sympathizer, who presents her with risky career choices in Germany. Viviane chooses to accompany stepsister Julia to Count von Schroeder’s castle in Bavaria for the opportunity to follow her dreams. Viviane is settled in the politically divided household with the count and countess, and three sons. Viviane’s interactions uncover the prejudices of each member’s involvement in the politics of Germany and the rising Nazi regime.

Cornwall’s narrative transports readers from London’s society balls and mob riots to nerve-wracking, bone-chilling missions in Germany, as careers and lives are risked in conflicts involving a clearly defined Nazi enemy.

Enthralled readers will be shocked as the plot twists and Viviane takes more risks with her camera. The well-researched prose immerses readers in politically charged Germany with captivating dialogue and ominous reactions in clutch situations. Viviane’s balancing act exposes political and religious tensions as she nimbly walks a fine line with members of the von Schroeder family. An engrossing, absorbing picture of the 1936 Olympics from the perspective of a “pretty young tourist taking holiday snaps.”