Title: My Brother’s Shadow
Author: Monika Schroder
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
May Contain Spoilers
As World War I draws to a close in 1918, German citizens are starving and suffering under a repressive regime. Sixteen-year-old Moritz is torn. His father died in the war and his older brother still risks his life in the trenches, but his mother does not support the patriotic cause and attends subversive socialist meetings. While his mother participates in the revolution to sweep away the monarchy, Moritz falls in love with a Jewish girl who also is a socialist. When Moritz’s brother returns home a bitter, maimed war veteran, ready to blame Germany’s defeat on everything but the old order, Moritz must choose between his allegiance to his dangerously radicalized brother and those who usher in the new democracy.
I usually try to avoid books set during either world war. I find them depressing, and they leave me with so many questions far beyond the scope of a fictional novel. When I was asked to review My Brother’s Shadow, I hesitated. Would I be able to make my way through a setting that I find unpleasant? Bleak? Hopeless?
The answer is a resounding yes. I even found myself using the Google-fuu to do some on the spot research into the background of some of the events that take place during the story. After struggling to get through the first chapter, I powered through this book. I had to know what happened to Moritz and his family. I had to know that he, at least, found some happiness and hope in the dreary world he was forced to live in. Moritz is forced to grow up much faster than is fair to a boy his age, and as he struggled to keep the remnants of his family safe and fed, he is also forced to let go of his childish illusions that his life can go back to the way it was before the war.
In this bleak setting, Moritz is a bright, relatable character. His father has been killed in the fighting, his brother has proudly marched off to the frontlines to do his duty for his fatherland, and his mother, like most of the women in Berlin, has been pressed into service, too. She works in a factory making ammunition, making arms for the soldiers weary after four years of brutal warfare. Moritz works at in a print shop running a press, his dreams of attending school and becoming a journalist dissolving with the mind-numbing hunger and stifling poverty that plagues most of the Germany citizenry. When he discovers that his mother is attending illegal gatherings that rally against the Kaiser, he is beyond dismayed. How can his mother be a traitor?
I enjoyed this book so much because I liked Moritz. He strives to help his family in every way he can, and he makes some huge blunders in judgment along the way. I liked that he learned from his mistakes, and as he began to truly open his eyes to the political conditions in Germany, his own opinions of the war and the Kaiser begin to slowly change. He no longer blindly believes in the current governing system, and more importantly, the war, and he sees that it is people like himself who are suffering the most.
I am so happy that I overcame my reluctance about the setting of My Brother’s Shadow and read the book despite my misgivings. It’s a compelling read about a brave boy who is forced to become a man before his time.
Review copy provided by the author