Historical Era: WWII
Historical Rating: History Lite – based on the events surrounding Kaiser Wilhelm and the Nazi Party during WII in Holland.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Book Jacket Summary: “It is 1940 and the exiled monarch Kaiser Wilhelm is living in his Dutch chateau, Huis Doorn. The old German king spends his days chopping logs and musing on what might have been.
When the Nazis invade Holland, the Kaiser’s staff is replaced by SS guards, led by young and eager SS officer Martin Krebbs. Assigned to guard the Kaiser and to probe his attitudes toward the Third Reich, Krebbs rapidly insinuates himself into the royal household. Yet, he soon finds himself drawn to the formidable old man, and an unlikely relationship develops between the king and his keeper. While they agree on the rightfulness of German expansion, they disagree on the horrors that accompany it.
But when Krebbs becomes attracted to Akki, a Jewish maid in the house, he begins to question his belief in Nazism. As the threads of history conspire with the recklessness of the heart, The Kaiser, Untersturmfuhrer Krebbs, and the mysterious Akki find themselves increasingly conflicted and gravely at risk…”
HFA Review: Alan Judd‘s novel depicts the struggle between love and loyalty and hope against the atrocities of war with keen skill in this short(er) novel that can easily be finished in a sitting or two (just over 200 pages). The story centers around Kaiser Wilhelm, the former sovereign of Germany, his second wife Hermine, their new servant and Jewish/British spy Akki, and the SS officer placed in charge of guarding the Kaiser (as well as reporting on his stance when it comes to Germany and the war) Martin Krebbs. Each of these characters finds themselves contemplating moral and ethical choices that put them at odds with the people whom they have been firmly loyal.
Krebbs enters the Kaiser’s Holland residence, where the Kaiser has lived for the majority of his exile from Germany, a loyal officer of the SS with his complete faith in their mission and his superiors. The Kaiser, though loyal to Germany overall and a supporter of ending the “Jewish problem,” is conflicted about his feelings when it comes to the tactics of Hitler as well as his suppressed loyalties to England due to his being half English through his mother. Hermine is desperate to find a way to get her husband back on his throne, title and reputation fully restored (and secretly dreaming of being crowned herself), kissing up to the new government hierarchies. All while Akki, sent by Churchill to see if Wilhelm will defect to England as a blow to Hitler, secretly maneuvers to complete her mission while also hiding the fact she is Jewish.
What really stirs the pot is Martin and Akki fall for each other almost instantly. Their relationship is sweet but simultaneously detrimental to both of their livelihoods, if caught. Especially after Akki tells Martin that she is Jewish. This information pushes Krebbs into a corner he never expected, forcing him to see his beloved SS in a new and not so flattering light. He can no longer be a blind follower and believer, but at the same time his identity is so wrapped up in the SS that he can’t just walk away or become extremely disloyal. So the question becomes does he turn in the woman he loves as he should or does he keep her a secret and thus risk his own life if his disloyalty is discovered?
At the same time, Krebbs finds himself liking the Kaiser more and more and is torn between reporting on the older gentleman with complete honesty or to falsify reports a bit by not disclosing certain things he’s learned in order for the Kaiser to be viewed more favorably by the Reich. This too, if discovered, could lead to considerable punishment. When Himmler visits, the ante is upped when Krebbs learns there is an English spy in the vicinity and is charged with finding this person as well as being saddled with the understanding of the Reich’s true interest in the Kaiser. It is not what the Kaiser and Hermine think and could quickly turn precarious, if not handled carefully.
Ultimately, the story rests on Martin Krebbs shoulders. Will he do the right thing or will he remain a loyal SS officer, turning a blind eye? What will become of Akki and the Kaiser based on Krebbs choices and will Krebbs be able to live with whatever choice he makes?
Though a sweet story and interesting insight, even if mainly fictional, into Germany’s history between its monarchy and the rise of the Third Reich, the story is slow paced and takes time to really get going. The 208 pages are divided into 7 lengthy chapters that make reading a bit more difficult, at least for someone like me who hates to start a chapter and not finish it. One chapter alone is over 50 pages. There are times were the author went into too much detail about an event that didn’t seem to hold great weight in the story and then later not enough in scenes crucial to the plot and peaked reader’s interest. Finally, I found the ending somewhat satisfying in one sense (in the overall ending to the Akki – Martin story line) but overall disappointing and abrupt.
Though not the best book I have read, I did enjoy the characters immensely and cared about what happened to them, especially poor, conflicted Martin Krebbs. It’s a nice, easy read when you want something light and the romance portion doesn’t disappoint.
Historical Content: This story is based on some real history, but most of it is manipulated or made up entirely. The bulk of the information about Kaiser Wilhelm and his wife is real. Plus, the overall story of exiled monarch living in Holland with the Reich figuring out what to do with him is real as well. Akki and Martin are entirely fictional, but Krebbs is based on the the SS guard the Kaiser had during the war before he died in 1941. Though there is definitely legitimate history mixed into this story, the majority is made up or manipulated for the sake of the story. This book still has enough history to give the reader a good feel for life during the war and the conflicts of interest people faced when it came to the SS, their policies, their actions, and what people felt would be best for Germany in the long run.
Publisher: Touchstone, 2003