Everyone has secrets, little personal matters which we don’t want to share, which bring us pleasure or pain, actions we regret or which would be unacceptable to others, things from the past better hidden from view. What happens, though, when these secrets are more than just a personal matter, when they have to be kept out of the public eye, when even the closest friends and relations shouldn’t discover that something dark is lurking in the past? There are secrets which can destroy and entire family, which remove all feelings of trust and denigrate all the good that has been done, which drag an entire family down into the dirt with little or no hope of finding a way back.
In Germany, with its well documented history over the twentieth century, such hidden secrets can be found in many families: an uncle who served for the wrong people during the war; a father or brother who spied on the neighbors for the East German government; a daughter who earned her living through personal, intimate services in order to bring bread to the table for her family. We are brought into something similar to this milieu by Elisabeth Herrmann, but with a secret which goes back several decades, to the darkest period of German history, to a time when different rules, different ideals controlled the lives of all. A time when society comprised people of many levels, and those classified as non-human or considered unworthy of living a free and ordered life of their own in their own country, through ethnic origin or religious belief.
Photo Credit: vauvau – Creative Commons
A family highly placed in society with the best contacts, a name held with considerable pride, a public standing based on many good deeds, connections. A young woman with the best prospects, beautiful, intelligent and influential. A young attorney – Joachim Vernau – preparing to enter this higher society through marriage, also well-placed and respected. Nothing, as far as both of them are concerned, can stand in the way of their marriage, their future lives together until, during the public party for their official engagement, a young Ukrainian woman appears and brings the memories, the events of a half lifetime earlier back into the limelight, back into the here and now.
Joachim Vernau is thrown into a new world, one which traces its roots back to a Germany long since gone, but one which influences the thoughts and actions of many to this day, and finds himself battling against old hatreds, against those who wish what happened before to remain in the past, and who are prepared to go to the ultimate lengths of ensure that the truth does not come to light.
Elisabeth Herrmann has written a work of excellent depth, one which highlights to past as much as the problems of coming to terms with what has happened before. Her flowing thriller takes the reader on a journey into the depths of a period when the rules of society were completely different, when slavery existed in the home as much as in the work and concentration camps, where a human life was considered worthless in many cases, where the loss of a nanny could be passed over as if nothing had happened, and a new one ordered to replace her without question. She takes us into a world where personal interests had and have the upper hand, where fortunes were made at the expense of others, where whole lives – entire families – could be wiped out for the sake of a painting, an object of art, a comment at the wrong moment to the wrong person, and she does it with exceptional skill and professionalism.
Das Kindermädchen – which has been successfully filmed – is not yet available in English, although it should be. It is a book which will intrigue many, which has all the marks of an excellent crime thriller as well as a storyline which speaks to the mind, to the imagination, bringing two worlds together – the past and the present – into one flowing, exciting revelation of how that which is hidden influences our daily lives.
Published by Goldmann Verlag (in German). ISBN: 978 3 442 46455 5.
- Viktoria Michaelis.