Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein

Wunderland

Jennifer Cody Epstein

An unflinching exploration of Nazi Germany and its legacy, Wunderland is at once a powerful portrait of an unspeakable crime history and a page-turning contemplation of womanhood, wartime, and just how far we might go in order to belong.

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An intimate portrait of a friendship severed by history, and a sweeping saga of wartime, motherhood, and legacy by an award-winning novelist
 
East Village, 1989
Things had never been easy between Ava Fisher and her estranged mother Ilse. Too many questions hovered between them: Who was Ava's father? Where had Ilse been during the war? Why had she left her only child in a German orphanage during the war’s final months? But now Ilse’s ashes have arrived from Germany, and with them, a trove of unsent letters addressed to someone else unknown to Ava: Renate Bauer, a childhood friend. As her mother’s letters unfurl a dark past, Ava spirals deep into the shocking history of a woman she never truly knew.

Berlin, 1933

As the Nazi party tightens its grip on the city, Ilse and Renate find their friendship under siege—and Ilse’s increasing involvement in the Hitler Youth movement leaves them on opposing sides of the gathering storm. Then the Nuremburg Laws force Renate to confront a long-buried past, and a catastrophic betrayal is set in motion…

An unflinching exploration of Nazi Germany and its legacy, Wunderland is a at once a powerful portrait of an unspeakable crime history and a page-turning contemplation of womanhood, wartime, and just how far we might go in order to belong.


Advance Galley Reviews

"Wunderland" by Jennifer Cody Epstein follows three different women, Ilse and Renate in World War II Berlin and Ava in the post-war period to 1980s New York, and the secrets that impact their lives. Ilse becomes increasingly involved with the Hitler Youth movement, while Renate's discovery of her Jewish ancestry puts her on a very different path than her best friend. Meanwhile, Ava has never known who her father was and her relationship with her mother, Ilse, has been distant. After Isle's death, her unsent letters provide Ava difficult answers to her mother's past. The book does start off kind of slow and the Ava timeline was a little confusing at first, but then it really takes off. It's obviously very well researched. The book is very engaging and feels "real and gritty" between the history and the complicated relationships between friends, mothers, and daughters. Through Isle and Renate's friendship, Epstein does a fantastic job of portraying the violence and cruelty the Nazis treated Jewish people with, as well as showing how regular people could accept that ideology and viciously turn on their friends and neighbors. There are some very powerful parts in the book. At one part, Ilse is seeing a propaganda movie and the theatre bursts into "Seig Heil" salutes. As Epstein describes Ilse being caught up in the dark national pride I got chills. As for the parts with Ava, I could have gone without them. I understand why it was important to the narrative, but I just could not find myself liking Ava (or Ilse for that matter). I feel like we could have gotten a better understanding of Berlin in the post-war period in those parts, but the book never got into much depth on that. Overall it was a good, very well-written book. I have read quite a few fiction and non-fiction books on World War II Germany and this one is pretty good. It does (obviously) cover some pretty dark material and after reading "Wunderland" I definitely feel as bummed as I usually do after reading these books. So, while I liked the book, I did not "enjoy" it, if that makes sense. For those readers interested in reading more about this time period though, I would definitely recommend it.

 


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