By: Ellen Marie Wiseman
My Goodreads Review: 4.5/5 Stars
I have been really looking forward to reading this book. It comes highly reviewed and seems like a great historical fiction novel, showing a new perspective on World War II.
“I want you to understand something. War makes perpetrators of some, criminals of others, and victims of everyone. Just because a soldier is in the battle, doesn’t mean that he believes in the war.”
Ellen Wiseman writes an incredible story of love, survival and courage. The main character, Christine, is 17 years old when the Nazis win over power in Germany. This change in government doesn’t affect her family initially, but eventually, the Nazi rule begins to affect everyday life in the small rural town where Christine lives. Especially when it comes to her love interest, Isaac, the son of the prominent Jewish family in town. The Plum Tree follows the perspective of Christine through to the end of World War II.
“Yet brutal actions become war crimes only if you lose.”
I first have to give all my readers a warning. This is an incredibly emotional book, more emotional than many other WWII and Holocaust books I have read. I cannot pinpoint exactly why that is but, I know that there were many times I had to put the book down, step aside and clear my head. I think it could be because of how great the writing is; everything seemed so real, every emotion Christine felt, every obstacle she overcame. This was a fantastic book.
There is so much to love about this book but, I will try and keep my reasons brief while also trying not to spoil any aspect of this remarkable story. First, I fell in love with Christine and Isaac; everything about them seemed so real and genuine. Their families, their teenage naivetés, their jump into adulthood and their love for one another kept you glued to every single page. I found myself waiting, tortured with each break from his storyline, to hear more about Isaac and his family. My heart hurt for the pain that Christine was experiencing with Isaac and how her world was changing so quickly and so dramatically. Although they are not real characters, their lives, experiences, and love could easily be related to many German people during that time. In addition, Christine was loosely based on the author’s mother (very loosely), which added a realness to the story.
As I mentioned before, the writing of this story was incredible. It read so perfectly with an ease that few authors have been able to master in the same way. I never struggled to understand anything (even when things were written in German), I never felt confused by any changes in the story; everything flowed so well together. It was an incredibly well-written book.
I enjoyed seeing Nazi Germany from the perspective of a young, poor German farming family. They were not tied to the Nazis in any way but, this book showed how all Germans, whether they agreed with Hitler or not, had to follow in line with the new policies or face death for themselves and their families. It’s a perspective that I think needs to be remembered when reading about these atrocities. Very few Germans knew what was happening, and the ones that did feared their life or their family’s lives. These viewpoints were shown very well in this book. Wiseman also does a great job of showing that even though some German people didn’t agree with what was occurring, unfortunately, some did assist in the Gestapo’s atrocities. There are so many layers to this time in history, and it isn’t easy to understand how any of this occurred but, it is an event the world needs to know and reflect on to ensure nothing like it happens again. This was a very clear message in Wiseman’s book.
I must mention one aspect of the book that I found myself struggling with. I found the last few chapters relating to Stefan to be pretty unrealistic and a bit disconnected from the rest of the book. However, it did a great job showing how many of the SS went into hiding after World War II and how many of them hid what they truly did during the war. It was remarkable how cowardly these men were after all the horrible things they committed. It really made me wonder how many of them got away with it.
“But good can still stand up against evil. And maybe the best place to do that is here.”
Overall this was a remarkable book with exceptional characters and a fantastic storyline. It also included many factual aspects that made the story feel more real. Despite the last few chapters, all parts of this book were interesting and meaningful. This book left me with another new perspective on this war and the horrible genocide that occurred. I would highly recommend this book.
“So that’s how it happens, she thought. I’ll get distracted by life. The wounds will be covered by pleasant moments, moments that I used to take for granted. Hopefully, the pleasant moments will become more frequent, and longer lasting. Because if I keep living in the past, I won’t survive.”