The German House

Written by Annette Hess
Review by Susan Higginbotham

World War II is no more than a hazy memory for 24-year-old Eva Bruhns, who in 1963 Frankfurt is more concerned with her demanding work as a translator and with her upper-crust suitor, Jürgen. When Eva finally introduces him to her family, who run the small restaurant that gives the novel its title, the gathering is interrupted by Eva’s boss, who summons her to a job. Used to dealing with business disputes, Eva is bewildered and shocked when the Polish witness before her begins to speak of gas chambers. When this brief assignment leads to Eva’s appointment as an interpreter at Frankfurt’s Auschwitz trials, Eva is forced to confront her country’s—and her own close-knit family’s—past.

Translated from the German by Elisabeth Lauffer, this is Hess’s first novel, and it is a powerful, accomplished one, with memorable, flawed characters. It’s strong on the details of everyday life—remember going into a phone booth to make a phone call?—and unsparing in its recounting of Nazi atrocities. While the “head-hopping” Hess occasionally indulges in may be off-putting to some readers, it worked well for me. Readers of historical fiction will appreciate this fresh perspective and the difficult questions it raises.