Author: Sofía Segovia, translation by Simon Bruni
Published: May 2021 by Amazon Crossing
Genre: Historical Fiction based on fact, WWII, Book Review
With war looming dangerously close, Ilse’s school days soon turn to lessons of survival. In the harshness of winter, her family must join the largest exodus in human history to survive.
Not far away, trying and failing to flee from a vengeful army, Arno and his mother hide in the ruins of a Königsberg mansion, hoping that once the war ends they can reunite their dispersed family.
Tears of Amber follows two Prussian families, the Hahlbrocks and the Schippers, leading up to and during the Second World War, mainly from the perspectives of Ilse Hahlbrock and Arno Schipper. Ilse and Arno are small children at the beginning of the story, with no idea of what was to come as war looms ever closer. We learn of their everyday lives, the changes, decent into poverty and conflicting feelings that begin to occur with the rise of the German army and the Nazis.
Janusz, a Polish orphan and prisoner of war, is assigned to the Hahlbrocks’ farm as a labourer and, through his friendship with Ilse, is accepted and well treated by the family, eventually embraced as one of them. Janusz is a wonderful storyteller and his tales help to keep spirits up through the horrors, when the family are forced to leave their farm, all they hold dear and flee for their lives.
The war continued, the Reich made its demands, and they did their part: Produce more they were told, and they worked harder. Have more children for the glory of the Vaterland, and they complied: they were trying for their fourth. But they couldn’t understand why Germany needed children to forget how to be children; to forget play and subject themselves to military discipline; to replace lullabies with “ Horst Wessel Lied” and its call to arms.
Meanwhile Arno and his mother, while trying unsuccessfully to escape the army, are forced to hide in the ruins of house in Königsberg, hoping to wait out the war and then reunite with the rest of their family.
This tale of WWII gives a different perspective from the majority as it focusses on the fate of the two families. Vivid imagery and atmospheric prose depict what they must do in order to survive. The characters are brought to life as we follow their struggles, unimaginable hardships, heartbreak, fear and sorrow while witnessing their strength, courage and the endurance of the human spirit.
The fact this story is based on true events and real people make it all the more powerful. As the author states in the notes at the end ‘Tears of Amber is a fictional novel inspired by real events. Not only by official texts, but also by the accounts of two children and their families who had to travel enormous distances to survive one of the biggest and most terrible exoduses in human history, before coming together in exile.’
How people actually survived the realities of such an exodus is a miracle in itself, although not all did of course, and one such ending is a very sad one. Wonderfully written and translated, it’s an unforgettable and compelling, albeit sometimes harrowing, story.
My thanks to Jennifer Richards and NetGalley for the ARC
Book links ~ Amazon | Book Depository | Bookshop.org |
Sofía Segovia’s international bestseller The Murmur of Bees (2019) was nominated to National Book Award, won a Sovas Award – Audiobook Narration – Fiction, Best Voiceover – 2019. Tears of Amber 2021 was an instant bestseller in Amazon.
Sofía speaks Spanish, English and French. She loves to travel but lives and writes surrounded by the mountains of her hometown, Monterrey, Mexico, with her family (close and extended), the Frenchie Amélie, the Brussels Griffon Leeloo Dallas, and Mika the Exotic Short Hair cat.
They keep her busy and real, but imaginative. Without their hustle and bustle, she could not concentrate to write.