The German Midwife by Mandy Robotham has this as one of its descriptors: “A new historical romance for 2019.” That description, clearly stated on the novel’s Amazon page, slipped by me entirely. I don’t read anything with “romance” in a novel’s description. What hooked me was a comparison to “The Tattooist of Auschwitz,” something I had listened to as an audiobook. The comparison was good. One was a compelling read, the other a compelling listen. If I had known some of the descriptions I would encounter in this novel; I probably would not have read it. My fault. With the word “Midwife” in the title, I should have expected some of the very clinical, detailed depictions of a difficult childbirth. I attended several of the births of my children, but as a male, there is no way I was prepared for several of the descriptions of difficult birth I read in this novel.
Although several women may read this work with the attitude of “Yep, been there, done that,” there is another set of gruesome descriptions that should not resonate with most women. Most of this work deals with Angke’s work in German prison camps during WW II. Angke was originally a German prisoner trying to stay under the radar and survive by doing low-level, unimportant work while incarcerated. She was a German “political” prisoner as was her father, mother, sister, and brother. Considered politically unreliable because they did not join the Nazi party and spoke out against ever constricting social laws, the family was imprisoned in three different prison camps. Angke was jailed separately. There was an instance when a woman about to give birth was in great pain and difficulty. In trying to help her, Angke revealed her training as a midwife and after that became one. Then the horrors began.
We know today of the Holocaust; we have witness testimony from the Nuremberg trials. It seems like every horror imaginable became a reality. Still, there were elements of the horrors from that time depicted in this novel that were new to me. The author tells us that this is a work of fiction and there are important elements of the novel I am sure are fiction. But there are others that I accept because of prior knowledge of similar horrors revealed through documentary evidence. Most revolve around the fates of mothers and children after the birth of a child.
Women in the camp who were German gave birth under difficult conditions with little to no medicine. Forget anesthesia; there was no medicine to deal with post birth injuries that might occur to a woman. All prisoners were malnourished; the degree to which this affected a woman’s health at birth depended on when they arrived in the camp and how long they had been there. It was obvious that some of the women became pregnant through rape by the guards. For German prisoners, women could keep their babies for a limited number of days. The infants were then moved to a nursery where they were uncared for, unfed, and stacked in rooms without heat. Most died.
It was different for Jewish women. Babies were removed from their mothers within the first hour after birth and thrown into barrels of icy water or, in some cases, hurled against the sides of the barrels. For this novel, the author suggests that these executions were carried out by especially sadistic guards and, in one case, a criminal prisoner who enjoyed killing children. Fiction, but believable. Although all of this is horrible to read, it gets worse but in a more abstract way.
Angke is good at her job. Although not Jewish, she willingly and with empathy, helps Jewish prisoners. Angke believes that all life is sacred, especially the lives of innocent children. Officials noted her skills. When a very special German important person gets pregnant, Angke is drafted to attend the important person. She is not given a choice; one camp official notes that if Angke does not perform well, her family’s treatment in two other camps will become significantly worse. Angke will move out of the camp into “The Berghof” and will become the personal attending midwife to Eva Braun, girlfriend/partner/confidant of Adolf Hitler. She may even meet the Father of her Country when he occasionally visits Eva.
Eva will constantly be under guard of course. Most of the guards will be typical Nazi scum, but there will be a handsome SS officer. Of course, there must be romance somewhere; the Amazon page says so.
Angke has a huge problem. Already anti-Nazi, she will now be responsible for bringing the spawn of Hitler into the world. Might the child carry some cruelty gene that would perpetuate chaos in the world? Even if that were not true, could the child be manipulated by others to be a Hitler clone? Could Angke save the world by terminating Eva’s pregnancy? Does she have a responsibility to do this? So many questions. The author will offer some answers along with some surprises.
I will not even explore the romance element. Readers might guess where it is going. I find it extremely unrealistic, and it made the novel a four Amazon star read for me. This novel has a strong story very well done even though the romance element is unbelievable. Author Robotham emphasizes this is a work of fiction. I found most of the fiction in the romance element. That is not a good thing because everything outside the romance element almost qualifies as horror. It is a fast read that I considered a page-turner. I read it in one session and will read more by this author. It sells on Amazon for USD 0.99, and I would have paid a lot more.