The Writing on the Wall
Gene Thomas, a wholesome, church-going youth in 1961, hears about the construction of the Berlin Wall. His Uncle Peter will be trapped in the Russian Zone. Cousin Hans Stoltz is a practicing Mormon who finds it difficult to observe his faith in East Berlin. When he hears the government has closed the border, he comments, “Most of the best nations lock up their people.” His sarcastic remarks cause a friend to warn him that the STASI, secret police, have spies. The Wall becomes a metaphor for his future prospects.
Family relations drive the plot. Generational conflict is mirrored by the Stoltz family. Hans and his friend try a desperate escape on air mattresses in the Baltic Sea. A second attempt includes the whole family. Their love of freedom inspires them to risk all. When they have to turn back, Hans loses his faith.
The narrative style is accessible, with straightforward action and dialog. Hughes’s work demystifies Mormons and gives us enough diversity in the characters that everyone should find someone with whom to identify. He stops short of exercising some plot options. Perhaps he’s saving them for the next volume in the “Hearts of the Children” trilogy.