Thursday, April 13, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: Good Town by Mary Louise Wells

I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

Good Town by Mary Louise Wells is a beautiful and important WWII novel. There are no spies or resistance fighters or code breakers. This is a novel about the regular people – the people too many of us would have been. When faced with a slow creeping danger, self-preservation and protection of our loved ones is naturally a first concern. Looking the other way is a slippery slope. But as the old saying goes: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” This novel shows evil triumphing and how safety under those conditions is only an illusion.

Josef Haupt is a good man. He is a wealthy, successful farmer in Guttstadt, East Prussia. A devoted, God-fearing Catholic. Father of eight. Respected by his neighbors and the people in town. But when the Nazis begin to infiltrate Guttstadt, Josef goes along to get along. He makes the mistake of speaking to an old Jewish friend in a very public way and is hauled off by the Gestapo where he is threatened with imprisonment if he does not get on board with the Nazi agenda. First, he has to become an agricultural overseer for the region. Eventually, he is coerced into joining the party. Little by little, although he never agrees with what is going on, he finds himself coopted by the party machinery. It is the only way to keep his family “safe.” All four of his sons end up fighting for Hitler.

Margarete is Josef’s eldest daughter. She is nine years old at the time the book begins but close to twenty by its end. She is witness to and victim of all the horrors of the war and its aftermath. Strong, intelligent, and resilient, Margarete doesn’t understand much of what is happening at first, but slowly becomes aware of what the Nazi regime and the war mean for her family, friends, and Germany.

The book is based on the author’s own family lore. She brings the characters fully to life with sensitivity and honesty. It is well-researched, realistic, and emotionally gripping. This novel is highly recommended.

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