Tuesday 26 September 2023



Title: The Novelist From Berlin
V.S. Alexander
Kensington Books
Historical Fiction
Release Date:
26th September 2023

An engrossing novel inspired by the mysterious true story of Irmgard Keun, a female novelist who defied all the rules during Berlin’s volcanic post-WWI years, as a young German writer exiled for her ideas flees her country and her Nazi-supporting husband, fighting for her art, her life, and her child.

1920s Germany: Though the world has changed in the wake of the Great War, it is still ruled by men. Even a woman as resourceful and intelligent as Niki Rittenhaus needs alliances in order to survive. Her marriage to Rickard Länger, a movie producer for Berlin’s Passport Pictures, seems convenient for them both. When Rickard succumbs to increasing pressure from the Nazis to make propaganda movies, a horrified Niki turns away from her own film aspirations and instead, begins to write.

Niki’s first novel, The Berlin Woman, is published under a pseudonym to great success. But Niki knows she cannot stay anonymous for long. The Nazis are cementing their power over Germany—and over her husband. Though she succeeds in escaping Rickard, he directs Hitler’s Brownshirts to do the unthinkable: kidnap their daughter. With her books blacklisted, her life in danger, and Europe descending into war, Niki travels to Amsterdam, joins the Dutch Resistance, and then returns to war-torn Berlin determined to claim freedom for herself and her child, and to write her own story at last. 

Goodreads Link

I think the cover fits the book well & along with the title would have me picking the book up from a store shelf to learn more!

The main character is Marie or Niki as her best friend Lottie names her, saying it is more fitting for the modern woman Marie wishes to be. Marie/Niki regularly frequents a local bar with best friend Lottie soon becoming firm friends with bartender Rudi. Marie/Niki considers herself a new modern German woman who doesn't need marriage and children to fulfill her, she wants more, a single, free life. Marie/Niki enjoys the single life, flirting and if she chooses sleeping with whom she pleases. Her mother Frieda is not so impressed with the life her daughter is leading, waiting for what she sees as the inevitable day she will return home single, shamed and pregnant! Though Frieda & Marie/Niki don't have what you would say a close relationship they are there for each other and offer each other support when most needed. Lottie is the other constant friend in Marie/Niki's world.

It's whilst at the bar a man, Rikard Langer, a movie producer catches Marie/Niki's eye and attention and she asks the bartender Rudi to call her the next time Rikard is in the bar. One thing leads to another and Marie/Niki end up in first an arrangement of convenience, living together, then a relationship, and finally becoming husband & wife.
Now relatively comfortably off Marie/Niki begins to write, something she has always wanted to do. At first Rikard unconditionally supports her, but then urges her to be cautious as the Nazis will not like her books as the women in them do not conform to that of a 'Good Nazis German Wife & Mother'
At the same time their happy life and potential future is interrupted by Adolf Hitler, the mad man who wants power and hates Jews.
When Marie/Niki's books are banned & burned by the Nazis she knows she is in danger and with Rickard being coerced into making films for the Third Reich and becoming more and more drawn into 'party politics' it's too much uncertainty and danger for Marie/Niki. Despite Marie begging him to leave, Rikard believes he knows better that everything will soon be over and that Hitler will not gain the power he seeks. Marie/Niki leaves with their daughter. However Rickard has already lost a son to a previous broken marriage and is determined not to lose his daughter, so with his friends in high places in the ever gaining strengthened Nazis he takes his daughter back and Marie/Niki is warned to stay away.

Marie/Niki briefly finds happiness with a Jewish man Emil, even escaping Berlin, living with him and his Uncle, joining a small resistance group when once again the Nazis come for the Jewish population. When Emil and his Uncle disappear, probably to a work camp, then extermination camp and the Nazis becoming stronger danger is round every corner. Marie/Niki finds herself back in Berlin searching for a glimpse of her daughter, back in contact with her mother Frieda and best friend Lottie.

Even when the Nazis are defeated the war is not over for Marie/Niki, having to live with different factions ruling different parts of Berlin and Germany. Marie/Niki once again does what she has to in order to survive, trading information with those who some would consider the enemy. Finally Marie/Niki finds her daughter pregnant and trapped in an abusive marriage, being trapped along with Lottie and her family on the 'wrong side' of the Berlin Wall.

This is a mixed difficult review. I honestly disliked the main character at first, Marie seemed somewhat cold and self centred at times. I just didn't take to Marie/Niki at all but as time went on and you got to know her more and what she went through was revealed I couldn't help but warm to her. In the end I didn't want her story to end I wanted a better outcome for her, different to the one she ended up with. I really wanted her to find a happy ever after, which I know in her own way she says she does. Marie/Niki definitely lived many different lives during her lifetime, from single modern German woman, to lover & actress, the wife & mother. Marie/Niki also played her part in smaller acts of Defiance against first the Nazis then the Stasi. You could say Marie learns to use men to get what she wants and where she wants to be but it's not without costs to herself and some major losses along the way. I found myself asking how much more can this woman take many times during the book especially when she was separated from her young child by the Nazis and her then husband who went along with the Nazis for a quiet life but found himself drawn in deeper and deeper making propaganda films for them.
Throughout the book Marie/Niki always has her friend Lottie and her mother Frieda as constant support whenever she needs them. There's some seriously sad scenes, one in particular between Rickard and Marie, making you wonder if the Nazis had never got control if their life would have been different, a happier ending. Then the devastating endings for some of the characters.

Favourite characters were Lottie always there to help her friend Marie/Niki, and Emil who knew his precious time with Marie/Niki was limited because of the Nazis threat.

I enjoyed reading about the acts of Defiance the Jewish and some German people were brave enough to carry out, from printing & distributing leaflets, to courting & killing Nazis, to digging a tunnel under the Berlin wall to escape to the other side. They all added up to making this book a realistic, intriguing and at times edge of your seat read! In the end I didn't want Marie/Niki's story to end I wanted a better outcome for her, different to the one she ended up with.

Summing up, though initially a bit of a slow burner I really enjoyed reading this book. Then to find out it was loosely based on a real German woman made it all the more poignant and interesting!


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