The Lost Book of Bonn

Written by Brianna Labuskes
Review by Karen Bordonaro

Can poetry change the world? This novel set in WWII Germany poses that question through the lives of three young women. Two of the women are German sisters growing up in Bonn under the Nazi regime, and one is an American librarian in the immediate aftermath of the war, working to return plundered books to their rightful owners. Framed by the librarian’s search, the stories of the sisters unfold in two sequences: one during 1937-1938 as circumstances become more dire, and one in 1943 after they have parted ways. Different in temperament and personality, the older sister is a member of the Edelweiss Pirates, a real-life group of nonconformist young people who resisted the Hitler Youth through clandestine means. The younger sister, in contrast, gets caught up in the BDM (Bund der Deutschen Mädchen), the female counterpart to the Hitler Youth. Both sisters try to protect each other, particularly when the older sister becomes involved with a German Jewish poet who gives her a book. The librarian’s own personal story unfolds as she searches for the poet with the help of the Monuments Men in the war-ravaged nation.

Many forms of bravery and courage take place in both sisters’ lives, along with nuanced changes in their outlooks and shifting loyalties. Self-righteousness, self-loathing, and self-recrimination surface throughout the narrative, along with dawning self-awareness, forgiveness, and redemption. The bond between the sisters weaves their lives together with others both in their daily existence and on the larger canvas of Nazi terror. The power of books to connect different people together strongly resonates throughout. Highly recommended.