6 September 2013

Review: All God's Children by Anna Schmidt

Warning: This is a long review. But it’s shorter than if Winston Churchill had written it. And a little less opinionated.

There were less than two hundred members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Germany at the outbreak of World War Two, and they managed to save over 1000 lives. The American and British Friends were awarded the 1947 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in post-war Germany. There are some fascinating stories about the actions of Quakers in Hitler’s Germany, but All God's Children is not one of them.

There are advantages and disadvantages to receiving advance copies of books to review. The advantage is free ebooks and the chance to discover and recommend new (and new-to-me) authors. The disadvantage is that I only have the book cover and publisher’s blurb on which to base my decision: I don’t have the opportunity to browse the first few pages and decide if it’s going to be something I’ll enjoy.

I was attracted by the blurb to All God’s Children:

As World War II erupts, Beth Bridgewater, a Quaker pacifist, and Josef Buch, a passionate German Patriot, join together in nonviolent resistance of the Nazis—and in love. Does their love stand a chance in the midst of such evil. . .if they even survive at all?

“As World War II erupts …”. England declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, after Germany’s invasion of Poland. This was followed by Germany’s stampede across Western Europe, invading neutral Holland before driving the retreating Allied forces into the sea at Dunkirk. Hitler then turned his attentions to Crete, Russia and Africa before the Americans finally joined the fight after the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.

Yet All God's Children opens in Munich, Germany, in July 1942, almost three years after the outbreak of war (which the 1939 German Quaker meeting had predicted ). Then why had Beth not returned home to American in 1939? She originally arrived in Germany in 1934 to care for her young cousin, as her aunt was too frail after the birth. Apparently, she was still too frail in 1939, and is not yet recovered when the story opens in 1942. I just wanted to shake Beth’s aunt and uncle for their self-centredness (in contrast to their stated Quaker beliefs) and for their complete lack of attention to national events. If Aunt Isle really was so frail, why did the family not use the Quaker networks to leave Germany before the outbreak of war?

I could go on. I found a lot of inconsistencies and unanswered questions, but to include them would both make this review longer than it is already, and would give spoilers (feel free to leave a comment if you want to ask what REALLY annoyed me). Suffice to say that while All God's Children is full of internal and external conflict, I thought it all seemed contrived for the purposes of a story. It didn’t grab me, and I never felt these could be real people (which is a common factor in books I enjoy). I didn’t care at all what happened to any of these characters, and I only finished the book because I had to. If I had been able to browse before downloading it for review, then I don’t think I’d have got past the opening paragraph.

Anna Schmidt’s previous books have been Amish romance, and Beth is reminiscent of a stereotypical Amish heroine: loyal and Godly, but entirely wilful, naïve about life outside her immediate family, and entirely unengaging. Because I couldn’t bring myself to like Beth, I couldn’t see why Josef was interested in her. I’m not sure if All God's Children is supposed to be historical romance or historical fiction—I certainly didn’t feel it succeeded as a romance.

I liked Josef: he was intelligent, brave and loyal. But I couldn’t see that he had any religious faith or belief: it seemed his faith was in the Germany he grew up in. And even Josef, my favourite character, was rather two-dimensional. The only character I was interested in learning more about was Josef’s father, a high ranking member of the Gestapo. Why were the beliefs of father and son so different? Or were they? I got the impression that Herr Buch was hiding a secret, and that would make an interesting story... This is the first book in a trilogy, so a later story will probably focus on Herr Buch. But, based on this, I won't be reading it.

Having said all that, the writing was strong and there was a tangible sense of the fear and tension those living in Germany during the war were subject to. For those of you who are interested in this period, or who like your historical fiction to be based on historical fact, I recommend the Secret of the Rose series by Michael Phillips or the Zion Chronicles by Bodie and Brock Thone (the writing style of both series is a bit dated, but the characters and storytelling are excellent).

Thanks to the Barbour Publishing and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Anna Schmidt at her website.

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