Kiel, Northern Germany, 1933. A naval city, the base for the German Baltic fleet, and the centre for German sailing, the venue for the upcoming Olympic regatta in 1936.
The Kästners, a prominent Military family, are part of the fabric of the city, and its social, naval and yachting circles. The Nussbaums are the second generation of their family to be in service with the Kästners as domestic staff, but the two households have a closer bond than most.
As Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party claw their way to power in 1933, life has never looked better for families like the Kästners. There is only one problem.
The Nussbaums are Jews.
The Sturmtaucher Trilogy documents the devastating effect on both families of the Nazis’ hateful ideology and the insidious erosion of the rights of Germany’s Jews.
When Germany descends ever deeper into dictatorship, General Erich Kästner tries desperately to protect his employees, and to spirit them to safety.
As the country tears itself apart, the darkness which envelops a nation threatens not only to destroy two families, but to plunge an entire continent into war.
Hi and welcome to my review of The Gathering Storm!
The Gathering Storm is the first book in the Sturmtaucher Trilogy set around and during the Second World War in Germany. The entire trilogy is now available to buy, which is exactly what I did, seconds after finishing The Gathering Storm.
The Gathering Storm kicks off in 1933, when Nazi Germany was but a twinkle in Hitler’s eye, and leads us all the way through the rise of the Third Reich until 1940 and the eve of WWII.
I have been reading a lot more historical fiction in the last couple of years, but somehow I mostly steer clear of stories set in this period, and I don’t even know why. As a child, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank was my favourite book and I have no idea what happened since to put me off WWII stories, but in any case it’s safe to say that accepting a review copy of The Gathering Storm was a leap of faith, rooted, probably, in the many raving reviews I’d seen.
By no means a short book, it took me a while to clear my schedule and, admittedly, also to pluck up the courage to tackle this behemoth. Fortunately, I soon realised why so many readers have been singing this book’s praises.
The Gathering Storm is simply the most excellent historical fiction. It is obviously very well researched, which is something I really appreciate in hist fic, the opportunity to learn. Crucial in well-researched books is that they shouldn’t read like textbooks, that the fictional story takes the front seat and you only realise how much you’ve learnt when you’re thinking about the book after you’ve put it down, or when you’re discussing it with other people. Alan Jones quite frankly nailed that, creating, in my humble opinion, the perfect blend of fiction and non-fiction.
The story is told from the perspectives of a German military family and a Jewish family. The Jewish Nussbaums work for the “Aryan” Kästners, but since the men grew up together and now their kids are growing up together as well, they are much closer than the average employer-employee. Through the eyes of the family members, and through military messages, letters and newspaper clippings, the reader sees a whole nation change and it is absolutely heartbreaking.
I was so invested in the history of these two families that I sometimes forgot I was also reading about actual history. I lost count of the times I thought: WHAT?! They can’t do that, Hitler can’t do that! But of course they could and of course he did. And this is how a whole nation was brainwashed and lulled into accepting, most even applauding, horrendous things. I never knew how insidious the NSDAP and its Führer went about achieving their goals. In school I learnt about the big things, the battles, the Anschluss, not the myriad of small changes in legislation and in daily life that robbed the Jewish people of every and any quality of life and peace of mind long before the actual war kicked off, these antebellum years truly are a gathering storm, the title couldn’t possibly be more apt.
I could go on and on about this book but I’ll spare you and myself the time and energy and say: get it, read it, love it! Seriously, if you’re a hist fic fan and you’re at all interested in this time period, The Gathering Storm should be at the very top of your Mount TBR!
Hugest of thanks to the author for offering me a review copy. Committing myself to reading and reviewing The Gathering Storm was precisely the incentive I needed to step out of my comfort zone and read it and I couldn’t possibly have ended the old bookish year and kicked off a new one with a more fascinating, shocking, brilliant book.