This excellent book consists of two stories intricately woven together. One story, told in first person, begins in the United States in 1972. Hannah Sterling’s mother, Lieselotte, has just died, and Hannah wants to find out more about her mother, particularly why she was such a cold, distant person.
The second story is Lieselotte’s, also told in first person, beginning in Germany in 1938. Hitler’s power is building, and Lieselotte doesn’t understand what is happening to her family, to her people, to their Jewish neighbors.
1972: Hannah goes through her mother’s things and finds a stack of addressed but empty envelopes that reveal family still living in Germany. She decides to travel there to find out anything she can about her mother. With the help of a driver her grandfather has hired to show her Berlin, Hannah investigates clues that lead to startling and disturbing discoveries. Nothing is as it seems, and danger lurks with every secret Hannah uncovers.
1938: Lieselotte works secretly with others to help those targeted by the regime. The risks are extreme. Discovery surely means death or a concentration camp. Her newly admitted love for her childhood friend, Lukas, must also be kept a secret for everyone’s sake.
I won’t incorporate any spoilers; I urge you to read the rest for yourself. This book is riveting and disturbing. Besides the superbly researched content, author Cathy Gohlke crafts a well-balanced and carefully arranged book that will leave its imprint on readers. Characters are complex, the plot unpredictable, the settings vivid, and the mood intense.
One of the startling things Hannah learns in her investigation is that even though the war is long over and Hitler is dead, not all Germans are remorseful for their attitudes and actions toward Jews. Nor are Jews confident that it won’t all happen again.
Introduced late in the book is the blessedly famous Corrie Ten Boom, who models forgiveness of our enemies. This is one of the most challenging aspects of this book, not only for Hannah but also for us as readers.
I highly recommend Secrets She Kept to anyone ready for a challenging, fulfilling and memorable read.