Mira, Mar 2008, $13.95
In October 1962, Rolf Hulst has mix feelings about swimming to the safety of West Berlin as he leaves behind in the Russian controlled East his beloved wife Trudy, their baby Stefan, and his aging all alone mother. However, if he stayed he also knows he risks their lives even more than if he leaves from stray bullets targeting him. As he is shot while making his escape, he wonders if his best friend Wolgang, an East German policeman, pulled the trigger. Struggling to stay conscious on the western side he writes in blood on a wall “Trudy, endlich frei” (Trudy, finally free).
The Stasi has no qualms about interrogating new mothers using torture to obtain answers as they demand Trudy tell them where Rolf is hiding. Wolfgang helps Trudy escape to the west, but she is forced to leave behind her son and his maternal grandmother. She learns that Rolf died, but has no time to grieve. She obtains a waitressing job and lives in a dump to save money to fulfill her promise to herself that she can one day bring over her family. In Late June 1963, as the American president claims “Ich bin ein Berliner”, a member of his retinue arranges for Trudy to come to the States even while Wolfgang’s career is over because of his childhood ties to Rolf.
This is an engaging historical thriller that brings to life the Cold War period just after the Berlin Wall is erected; interestingly with what has happened since this era feels like ancient history. The tale looks closely at the suffering of the East Berliners under iron strict Communist rule backed by the Soviet military, but it is Trudy’s adjustments to living in the States that make the tale. She is an outsider trying her best to be assimilated while wondering whether she will ever see Stefan again. Readers will appreciate this strong look back to one of the most explosive periods of the Cold War.