It is difficult not to give this book, Surviving the Fatherland, by Annette Oppenlander, a five-star rating. Surviving the Fatherland is an historical fiction based on true events, the lives of those who survived World War II, during the war and then in post-war Germany. As one reads this story of survival, told from the perspective of one young girl, her trials and tribulations of eking out an existence in a nation depleted of food and resources, most of them being siphoned off by Hitler's insane thirst for war and power, we live with her through the daily routines, the suffering, the emotional ups and downs, the sacrifices and the tangible fear of not only the on-going war, but how to survive in its aftermath. This story seems vaguely surreal as one reads it because it is difficult to imagine that just seven decades ago the worst war in human history happened, and the depth of suffering which people endured - if they lived to see it to its end. We look around today and see a world rebuilt, with hardly a vestige of that conflict visible, and yet, in the minds of those who navigated it, who lived on potatoes and onions, if that, who scrambled through the rubble for necessities, who sat in bomb shelters as their world was destroyed around them - and moreover, innocent people who were neither supporters of nor even soldiers in Hitler's madness, the traumas and memories they carried with them would never disappear. In spite of the time and the ambient war which Lilly and her family must survive, the story is not gruesome, but rather, it is a statement about the depth and strength of the human soul, and ultimately, really, of the love that drives people on in spite of all the reasons not to love. Highly recommended. A book that truly reminds us just how horrible war is, and that the victims of war are far more than just the soldiers who fought it, but in fact, the civilians who emerged from the rubble and had to rebuild the broken world in its aftermath.
Review by International Writers Inspiring Change
About Annette Oppenlander
Tell us about yourself. I grew up in Germany and earned an MBA in business from the University of Cologne before meeting my American husband at a Super Bowl party in Wichita, KS. We married a year later in 1988 and I’ve lived in the U.S. ever since.
What prompted you to become a writer? I began writing in the 1990’s and at some point noticed how great I felt doing it. After interviewing my parents about their experience as war children, I began to write down their memories for our family. In 2009, after attending a fiction-writing workshop at Indiana University, I created a first novel. It took seven more years of writing, studying, and writing some more, to see my first book published.
What do readers like about your writing? Readers often comment that they were right ‘there,’ with the hero in the action. Others say they learned something new about the era or a historical figure. I’m humbled when I hear these comments and they spurn me on to do even better with my next story.
Is there a message weaved into your writing? I like to write true stories or stories based on historical figures and events. I think it is a way for us to truly experience history and I hope my readers will learn something new. Our history informs what and who we are today as a people and hopefully, informs our decisions so that history does not repeat itself.
What is it that you want to inspire in others or change in the world through your writing? I would love for my readers to walk away from a story with something new added to their world view. I’d be proud if I have contributed just the tiniest sliver of information, or make my reader think about the world I created after they finished reading. Tell us about your most recent book and why you wrote it? SURVIVING THE FATHERLAND has been in the works for 15 years. In 2002 I interviewed my parents who were children in Germany’s Third Reich. I wanted to illuminate that part of history that shows how war changes children and how it influences a person long term. Both kids went through hell through no fault of their own. The war and the way their families and government treated them changed them for life. As a German-American who’s lived in the US and Germany, I think I have a unique perspective and I wanted their stories known.