Berliners by Vesper Stamper – historical fiction about Berlin Wall
Berliners is thought-provoking and touching historical fiction about Berlin Wall, a complex journey of fraternal twins and their family, and moral and ethical dilemmas.
Disclaimer- Many thanks to PRHinternational for eARC via NetGalley.
A riveting story about the rivalry between two brothers living on opposite sides of the Berlin wall during its construction in the 1960s, and how their complicated legacy and dreams of greatness will determine their ultimate fate.
A city divided. A family fractured. Two brothers caught between past and present.
Berlin, 1961. Rudi Möser-Fleischmann is an aspiring photographer with dreams of greatness, but he can’t hold a candle to his talented, charismatic twin brother Peter, an ambitious actor. With the sudden divorce of their parents, the brothers find themselves living in different sectors of a divided Berlin; the postwar partition strangely mirroring their broken family. But one night, as the city sleeps, the Berlin Wall is hurriedly built, dividing society further, and Rudi and Peter are forced to choose between playing by the rules and taking their dreams underground. That is, until the truth about their family history and the growing cracks in their relationship threaten to split them apart for good.
From National Book Award-nominated, critically acclaimed author-illustrator Vesper Stamper comes a stark look at how resentment and denial can strain the bonds of brotherhood to the breaking point.
Berliners is thought-provoking historical fiction of a complex journey of fraternal twins and their family fractured by politics and separated by the Berlin wall. The story is about the aftermath of WWII, Berlin society with two different ideologies, East and West Berlin culture, totalitarian and controlling USSR leadership in East Berlin, moral and thical dilemma, family drama, jealousy, betrayal, and young love.
Writing is poetic and beautiful told from twin brothers, Rudi and Peter’s perspectives that shows how different they are and so their beliefs and ideologies. The pace is too slow but plot is interesting written past and present of the twins with no distinct separation. Past is told through memories of childhood of brothers while present takes place from 1961-1962, leading to the formation of Berlin Wall and how that changed people’s lives, especially of twin brothers and their family. The family story, relationships, and two different ideologies is at the center of the story.
I have mixed feelings for this. I liked the plot in general if I ignore the pace but I kept feeling there should be more when it came to character development. Moreover, my NetGalley copy didn’t have author’s note in the end.
I absolutely loved the way city was described and the historical aspect was best part of the book. It was super interesting and thought-provoking to see the city and people’s lives change and how the political propaganda of USSR was shaping people’s life, misleading them.
Like the characters said, they just came out of one totalitarian regime and was trapped into another one. Honestly, the way politics here was shown I found it hard to differentiate totalitarianism, socialism, and fascism. The way the government/state was treating people on the east side looked like a combination of all of that. Kids were taught to believe and follow the GDR (German Democratic Republic)/socialist republic in school and there was no freedom of choice. Those who fought back were either thrown in jail or had to endure the hardship of labor or were just killed. The only other option was either to adapt or take refuge on the west side. It was hard to think how people could live in that time period and could go along with the Wall separating the city for 28 years. It was poignant to read how life-destroying this event was.
I loved the secondary characters and their family’s stories. It gave layer to the story and also showed the ugly side of the party, how Jews were still not safe or free in Hitler-free Berlin, how people are still not free of totalitarianism and the party was doing exactly the opposite of what they say or publically announce.
I loved Twin brothers’ family story. All characters of this family was complex. We know from the prologue, Rudi and Peter’s father, Rudolf, was Nazi soldier but once the allied forces took over he put his past behind and never uttered a word about it. How his past affected him, we see about it in last 30% of the book but until then it was like he never was a Nazi soldier in life. But that last 30% of what he said and the way his perspective was presented was thought-provoking and felt true.
I don’t exactly get their mother, Ilse. She suffered from depression and maybe had bipolar disorder after some years of war that affected her relationship with the family. I didn’t like her for most of book because of the way she treated her family, especially Rudolf and Peter, putting pressure on him, showing disregard how different her sons are. But in those last 30%, I felt for her. Maybe she had guilt because of past or how dissatisfied she was with life, and not getting proper treatment for her mental health changed so much in her life but she didn’t deserve what happened to her which made her flee.
I loved Omi who practically kept the family together. She was grandmother of Rudolf. Her age wasn’t mentioned but she must be quite aged and yet she was most youthful in the story. She is fiery, fierce, loving, caring, practical, and could see through people and what government was doing to East Berlin. She is a part reason I kept reading the book.
I loved Peter most. He was most taken after Omi. Maybe that might be the reason they two were close in the family. He got the best of everything from everyone in the family that made him, smart, clever, optimist who was sure of what he wanted in life, never followed what people said and had his own mind. He was amazing actor and he kept his real feelings and intention perfectly hidden.
Even though he was the leader of GDR in school, he knew he didn’t agree with many of party thoughts very early in the story but went along with what was expected of him as a leader, mostly because of his brother. But once he got to know Renate and crowd of secret cabaret showing their talent freely, his vision and thoughts towards the party solidified and his future became clearer. His growth was fast and he was most mature. He could see through people and knew how to survive on his own. I didn’t get some of his stand-up act but I could get the gist behind them and how true he was being about everthing going around in East sector. His emotions, anger, loneliness, and desire to be free and follow right path is infectious and touching. I loved how he stood up for what was right in the end and found a way for himself.
Climax is interesting and surprising. I was expecting some life-changing realization or development in Rudi but I didn’t get that. The end is surprising. I suspected something was off but not exactly what and why. I expected more before that end so let’s say I’m not happy with book ending just here without any epilogue.
Why 3 stars-
There is lots of build up here. Pace is very terribly slow. I find the main point and interest came very late in the story.
As for the synopsis, I wouldn’t say the brothers were rivals, it’s more about jealousy, selfishness and clashing of ideologies. The separation didn’t happen until the middle of the story and, to be honest, twins weren’t exactly separated, just one brother from his family, the other one had visa that allowed him to cross the wall.
I hated Rudi and there is almost no development in his character that I wanted most in the story, at least in the end. He is responsible, takes thing seriously, and is good photographer and baker but is insecure, selfish. He is always sulking, always jealous of Peter for having amazing memory and not having to work hard in school, for everyone liking him, even all girls in school, for him being good at acting and later at performing in secret cabaret. He couldn’t see how hard Peter also worked and how he learned from his mistakes.
Another irritating thing about Rudi is, how dutiful to a fault he is and believed whatever was taught in school, saw the world as black and white- either one is socialist, in favor of party or is against the party and so is fascist, there is no in between in his mind and he didn’t get the complexity of things nor the politics party played. He also lacked seeing through people and was easily duped into believing wrong things to the point he betrayed his own.
It was mentioned many time Rudi was a good guy but I couldn’t see or believe that. First he was blaming Peter all the time for lack of his own ability. He hated Peter for finding something of his own for having dream which didn’t include being in alignment of party, he even had thoughts of hurting Peter, he felt good when Peter failed in something. I wouldn’t be shocked if he traded places with Peter, he would sacrifice his own family to save his own skin. He didn’t exactly get his family or see the situation from their perspective. He was so stubbornly stuck to his own ideology that is created by party.
I could see his guilt at the end but I don’t feel it was to the point of satisfaction. He even said he didn’t regret for what he did to Peter. But he still was ready and TRIED to make it right in the end but we don’t reach to that point as we don’t get to see him apologize nor expressing how truly sorry he was for what he did not just to Peter but also to his lover, Angelika. I would have liked to have few more pages focusing on that or an epilogue.
Overall, Berliners is thought-provoking and touching historical fiction about Berlin Wall, family and moral and ethical dilemmas but I didn’t enjoy this as much as I would have liked.
I recommend this if you like,
Story of Post-war Berline and Berlin Wall
Story of twins and their life journey
Moral and ethical dimemma
Different ideologies and controling government
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This sounds like a story that I would love to read and know more about, but pacing being slow, I think I would lose interest. Excellent review, Yesha. I love how you explained your thoughts and reasoning.
Books Teacup and Reviews
Thank you, Carla! Pacing really ruined this for me and all interesting things happened in second half of the book. But otherwise this is really good in historical aspect.
Eustacia | Eustea Reads
Pace is everything for a book. Some books are meant to be slower-paced, but if you noticed it was too slow then it was too slow!
Books Teacup and Reviews
I can’t agree more. I like build up in books but too much build up, like for half of the book, makes it uninteresting.
This story has so much potential! I remember when they tore down the wall and heard all the reports of how terrible it was in the east. I don’t care for a slow paced book either.
Books Teacup and Reviews
I agree there was so much potential and I don’t see many book around this topic. it wasn’t bad in terms of historical and political aspect but it didn’t satisfy me as I expected.
Lashaan Balasingam @ Roars and Echoes
It does sound like there’s some misleading stuff in the blurb but I’m glad it wasn’t completely bad for you in the end. Great honest thoughts, Yesha!
Books Teacup and Reviews
Thank you, Lashaan! It’s not too bad, definitely loved writing and historical aspect. I might try some more books by author in future.
A slow pace is like a death knell for a book isn’t it? Too bad Rudy was such a problem to get behind. Insightful review!
Books Teacup and Reviews
Thank you, Tessa! I was so frustrated with Rudi’s character and I might have let it go as he was just 16 but then there almost no developent in the end which I can’t overlook.
Susy's Cozy World
I hope your next reading would be more satisfying! It doesn’t sound bad, and it has a lot of interesting themes for sure but… I don’t think I would try my hands at it!
Books Teacup and Reviews
Yes, it’s not bad as such. Just not as satisfying as i would have liked. No or ery late character developement is my pet peeve.