The German Wife

Written by Kelly Rimmer
Review by Susan Higginbotham

In 1950, Sofie and her children leave war-ravaged Berlin for Huntsville, Alabama, where they are reunited with Sofie’s husband, Jürgen, whom Sophie last saw being arrested by American troops. A rocket scientist formerly employed by the Nazi government, Jürgen has been freed in exchange for agreeing to work for Operation Paperclip, a project in which top-flight German scientists were brought to America to help the United States win the race to space against the Soviet Union.

Sofie’s first meeting with her husband’s American colleagues and their wives doesn’t go well, especially in the case of Lizzie, whose husband is in the awkward position of being Jürgen’s boss. With her beloved brother having returned from the war with combat fatigue, Lizzie is in no mood to be welcoming—the more so after she learns of the more sinister aspects of Jürgen’s former career.

Despite the title, The German Wife is narrated by both Sofie and Lizzie, whose stories, in the style so popular now, switch between events in Huntsville, Sofie’s and Jürgen’s travails in Nazi Germany, and Lizzie’s hardscrabble existence in the Texas Dustbowl. It is a compelling read with believable characters who are flawed but sympathetic. I was particularly impressed by the author’s portrayal of the morally compromised Jürgen, an unworldly sort who just wants to be left alone with his family and his dream of putting a man on the moon, but who finds himself too useful to the Nazi regime for his own good. Also intriguing is the tough, resourceful Lizzie. She’s an unusual type in historical fiction: essentially asexual, she’s happiest on a farm. Sofie, too, is vividly rendered as she tries to keep her family safe, a task that gets no easier with her move to Alabama.

Well plotted, this is a book that kept me reading when I should have been doing something else. I highly recommend it.