Review – The Seventh Gate

Sophie Riedesel is a teenager in Berlin in 1932. Other than being too smart for her own good with a biting sense of humor and always ready with a sarcastic remark, she’s a fairly normal young woman of the time. When Hitler begins his rise to power, her life takes a drastic turn. Her father, a scientist and a member of the Communist party with strong beliefs, suddenly switches to the Nazi party and espouses views she never thought he had. Sophie wants to believe he did it to save his job and family, but she isn’t entirely sure that’s the case. She has trouble understanding her father now, and it becomes even worse when her boyfriend, who she’s known since they were small children, also joins the party telling her things she doesn’t want to hear.

With all the men in her once-stable life now on the wrong side of her belief system, she takes comfort in her growing friendship with an older Jewish neighbor, Isaac Zarco, and his eclectic and — according to the Nazi party — socially unacceptable group of friends, which includes Jews, social activists, and some former circus performers.

As Germany changes, so does Sophie. Her relationship with her father, once open and loving, becomes halting and difficult. Her already strained and distant relationship with her mother, who outwardly doesn’t seem to care for her, turns nasty. Her younger brother, Hansi, a boy who hasn’t spoken in years, is a silent comfort and burden to her at the same time. She shares things with him she doesn’t tell anyone else, secretly wishes he would go away, and deeply wants to understand what goes on in his head.

Sophie becomes more and more involved with Isaac and the work he and his friends are doing to try and stop the growing power of the Nazi party. Isaac and his friends have formed a group called the Ring, which is working to get the word out and possibly stop the atrocities taking place in Germany. When a member of the group is murdered, Sophie, having grown close to Isaac, begins investigating the murder and asking questions in places she shouldn’t. She eventually becomes so involved in Isaac’s life that he begins making plans to send her away before any harm can come to her.

I don’t read much about World War II because I find it such a sad time in human history, but to me this book is an exception. What drew me to it was the mystery thrown in and mixed with the idea of kabbalist mysticism. Sophie is growing up fast in a city hampered with new rules every day, and it was particularly interesting seeing it all happening through her eyes. She takes risks, false steps, and makes mistakes, but sticks to her beliefs even when she knows what she’s doing could bring harm to those she loves. Her life, which once revolved around her boyfriend and obsession with Hollywood movies, is now made up of a group of people she realizes she can’t live without.

Isaac, who is a scholar of Jewish mysticism, begins teaching Sophie what he knows, and her love for Isaac and understanding of what drives him becomes a force in her life she will fight for in ways she never thought possible. Seeing Sophie change from a young girl fascinated by her own growing sexuality into a woman concerned with the political implications of her country’s governmental policies was an interesting metamorphosis in the way it affected her life in a most singular way — her family and the family she made. It’s Sophie’s ties that make this book so moving.

If you love historical fiction with characters that make no apologies for who they are and what they do, The Seventh Gate is a book you should read.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The Seventh Gate

By Richard Zimler

Overlook Press

ISBN: 9781590207130

4 stars

 

My Favorite Reads – The Book Thief

Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is a recent favorite of mine.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief

From the inside flap: Narrated by Death, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a young foster girl living outside of Munich in Nazi Germany. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she discovers something she can’t resist — books. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever they are to be found. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, Liesel learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids, as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

There are two things that I love about this book: 1.) it’s about books and, 2.) Death is the narrator. Don’t worry, I’m not giving anything away by telling you that Death narrates this story. He introduces himself on page 1. What it does is lend an amazing quality to this book that’s already set against an incredibly sad backdrop. Liesel is someone you automatically fall in love with. She’s clever, scared, and has seen way too many things for her young age but a good portion of that is due to current circumstances. The story itself is heartbreaking but worth every tear-inducing word on each page of this book. While Death is trying to make sense of the horror strewn landscape of World War II, you learn about his compassion through Liesel’s story. It’s simply a fantastic tale and one you shouldn’t miss.

Got a favorite read to share this week?

The Midnight Guardian: A Millennial Novel

The Midnight Guardian: A Millennial Novel

The Midnight Guardian: A Millennial Novel

By Sarah Jane Stratford

St. Martin’s Press

ISBN: 978-0-312-56013-3

3.5 stars

It’s 1938 and a group of ancient vampires decides that the power that Hitler is commanding in Europe must be stopped. These vampires, known as millennials, do not interfere with human affairs but decide, for not only the good of mankind but also their kind, to infiltrate and destroy the Nazi war machine.

Brigit, one of the oldest and most powerful of the group is loathe to go as it will separate her from Eamon. He has not yet reached millennial status and is too vulnerable for the mission. Reluctantly, she sets off with several companions to put their plan in motion but no one, even the oldest and strongest of the group, is sure they will return.

I didn’t know what to expect with this book — vampires hunting Nazis seemed a bit too much at first. However, once all disbelief is suspended, it works. It’s part love story, part vampire lore, and part action/thriller. It’s a strange combination and I will admit to being leery at first but, once I got into, I flew through it. The vampire background that Stratford creates is interesting and the long histories of the characters is enough to make it all work.

The Midnight Guardian is a fast read and good brain candy if you’re looking for a quick distraction. I liked the new vampire category added here and it seems set up for a second book as a few story lines are left hanging but not in such a way that leaves you annoyed. I think I might be willing to read a second one these books. While the idea was a bit outlandish, the characters were good enough to pull you in and, while it might not be a book you remember for years to come, it is an entertaining read.