Date Published: July 10, 2012
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Book Summary: August 1936: The eyes of the world are on Berlin, where Adolf Hitler is using the Olympic Games to showcase his powerful new regime. Cynical British journalist Richard Denham knows that the carefully staged spectacle masks the Nazis’ ruthless brutality, and he’s determined to report the truth.
Sparks fly when the seasoned newspaperman meets the beautiful and rebellious American socialite Eleanor Emerson. A superb athlete whose brash behavior got her expelled from the U.S. Olympic swim team, Eleanor is now covering the games as a celebrity columnist for newspapers in the States. While Berlin welcomes the world, the Nazi capital becomes a terrifying place for Richard and Eleanor. Their chance encounter at a reception thrown by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels leads them into the center of a treacherous game involving the Gestapo and the British Secret Intelligence Service. At stake: a mysterious dossier that threatens to destroy the leadership of the Third Reich.
Drawn together by danger and passion, surrounded by enemies, Richard and Eleanor must pull off a daring plan to survive. But one wrong move could be their last.
Set in America and Europe, David John’s Flight from Berlin is a masterful blend of fact and fiction, drama and suspense. A riveting story of love, courage, and betrayal that culminates in a breathtaking race against the forces of evil, it will keep you spellbound until its thrilling end.
My Thoughts: The 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany were very different from the Olympics we know today. Many Americans felt that we shouldn’t attend the Olympics. For example, the father of one of the characters (Eleanor) in Flight from Berlin, believed that sending our athletes to Germany was “condoning, lending respectability to the most iniquitous, the most unconscionable regime ever...”. On the other side of the coin, many felt as Eleanor did that the Olympic Games had nothing to do with politics. It’s important to bear in mind that in 1936, what Hitler was doing was known by very few outside Germany. In David John’s very readable novel, Eleanor soon learns, through the plight of the Jewish athlete Hannah Liebermann and her family, what her father meant and how wrong she was to think the Olympics were just games.
Richard Denham, a British journalist and a main character, was aware Hitler was up to no good and hoped to write and publish articles that revealed what was happening in Germany at the time. He meets Eleanor at a party in Germany and they have an immediate connection. Soon they are inseparable despite their differing opinions on whether or not American athletes should be competing in the Olympics. When Richard receives a tip that Hannah Liebermann’s participation in the Games on behalf of Germany is due to the Nazis threatening her wealthy family, Eleanor assists him with his investigation. In an intriguing chapter, Richard’s approached by British intelligence because they believe (correctly) Richard’s sympathies are with the Allies. Some very influential individuals apprised British Intelligence of the articles Richard publishes in American papers revealing the truth about what‘s happening in Europe. Richard declines to be a spy, but agrees to keep an eye out for a dossier the Nazis are desperate to get in their hands. Of course this means the British want it as well.
John masterfully describes, in a few captivating passages, Jesse Owens’ high jump and Hannah Liebermann’s jousting competition. The Olympic Games fade into the background before the novel is half-finished, much to my disappointment. When John plies his crisp style to describe events that actually happened, they are some of the book’s highlights, and it seems obviously that it’s no coincidence this book hit the shelves now, timed with the Olympic Games getting underway in London. I suppose some might see this as a shameless way to exploit the Games to sell a book. I leave that to others to debate the ethics of that strategy.
In that light, it is a bit surprising (or maybe it’s my fault for going in with some preconceived notions) that the search for the mysterious dossier dominates the story along with Richard and Eleanor‘s burgeoning relationship. Flight from Berlin becomes a suspense-tinged adventure story and much less a historical novel as we discover just how important the dossier is to the Nazis and the lengths they’re willing to go to obtain it.
Richard and Eleanor test the Nazis’ resolve to obtain the dossier. Eleanor, my favorite character, was raised in a wealthy family and is brash, outspoken and daring. When she believes in something or someone, she seems willing to risk anything and everything. She also has no qualms about using any family connection no matter high up. It helps, of course, that she’s a beautiful and charming woman. Richard learns there’s no changing Eleanor’s mind once it’s made up and, since he wants and hopes for the same results as Eleanor, Richard goes along with her. Eleanor and Richard devise an extremely risky, ultimately ludicrous plan involving the mysterious dossier, the Liebermann family and the Nazis. With the assistance of many friends, acquaintances and colleagues and a ridiculous amount of luck the adventure unfolds over the last quarter or so of the book. It’s at this point that the historical aspect of the novel gives way to fiction.
Flight from Berlin wasn’t the story I expected or hoped for but although I didn’t love it, I did like it. David John’s writing is compelling and the book is a quick, exciting read that’s difficult to put down at times. I enjoyed learning about the creation and flights of the Graf and Hindenburg Zeppelins and reading about Jesse Owens high jump. John bases some of the minor and major characters on real people and includes interesting information about them in their bios in the back of the book which I found fascinating. I would have liked more history particularly about the Olympics and less adventure and high jinks I’d recommend this book for readers who enjoy historical fiction.
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Flight from Berlin and to Harper for an ARC of this book.