Before I begin, I have a confession to make. I didn’t actually read the The Girl from Berlin, I listened to it. I know many people who listen to books will say that they read the book, but did they really? It’s debatable. It could also influence how I feel about the book, as the narrator made it that much more enjoyable.
The Girl from Berlin by Ronald Balson is about a young Jewish violinist living in Germany leading up to and during World War II, but it’s also about a modern-day Chicago lawyer and her investigator husband helping a friend’s aunt keep her land in Italy. If that’s not a big ol’ mash-up, I don’t know what is.
A well-known Italian Chicago restaurant owner and friend of Catherine and Liam enlist their expertise to help his aunt, who is being evicted from her home in the Tuscan hills of Italy by a powerful corporation claiming that they own the deeds to her land and her vines. Aunt Gabi sends Catherine a manuscript telling the story of Ada Baumgarten, a young and gifted violinist. So talented that she manages to be exempt from many of the restrictions placed on Jews.
The book takes us back and forth from present-day Italy to 1930s Germany. In present-day Italy, we see Catherine and Liam trying to dispute that Aunt Gabi indeed owns the land contrary to the corrupt lawyers, clerks, witnesses, and other individuals that the multi-billion dollar corporation, VinCo, has bribed.
In 1930s Germany and Italy, we see Ada’s musical journey. Her father, a concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, teaches her everything he knows about the violin. Her talent is evident and draws the attention of composers, musicians, and conductors alike. It also draws the attention of many Nazi high-ranking and aspiring soldiers, some who appreciate her talent and some who only see her race. Ada’s talent with the violin affords her many opportunities to showcase her skill and, on one evening, makes her a lifetime enemy of Nazi solider.
As Germany gets taken over by Hitler and his Nazi regime, Ada develops a romance with a non-Jewish boy, Kurt, who later becomes a Nazi soldier himself.
Who is Ada to Aunt Gabi? Are Ada and Kurt brave enough to withstand the dangers of their love? Do Catherine and Liam win Aunt Gabi’s court case? Does Ada end up in a concentration camp? Read The Girl from Berlin to find out.
If books on WWII depress you, check out our other book club recommendations.