Suzanne Kelman comes to the blog with a story of World War II Netherlands, during and after the occupation in
A View Across the Rooftops
Just how far from the known do things have to descend to before you take a stance and find a courage you never knew you had? Such is the case for the characters in this book, from the reticent and keep to himself professor, to the administrative assistant at the university, a young Jewish student in love with a Dutch girl who could never forget him….
This was not a story of people who decided to become people fighting against the Germans and the rise of despicable acts in their beloved city of Amsterdam – but they were more poignant for their sudden decisions to take a stand, even when every instinct is screaming for self-preservation. Starting with Josef Held, a professor of mathematics who has kept himself ‘removed’ from people and interactions since his wife’s death some years earlier. Recently, with all of the changes from the occupation, he’s been intrigued by his interest in Hannah Pender – the administrative assistant at the university, and frustrated with Michael Blum, a Jewish student who is noted for being a very reluctant student, also very in love with a young Dutch girl, Elke. But the Nazis are tightening their hold – from confiscating his wireless to taking an elderly neighbor into custody to places unknown, and he’s trying simply to survive the onslaught. His only family is a niece, brought to him after her parent’s death as a child, and now involved with a Nazi officer, bringing Josef no end of worry.
Hannah takes care of her infirm mother, who spends much of her time knitting caps for ‘the boys’ who will be cold in the coming months. She’s also friendly with a Jewish family, and the young daughter spends hours with her mother, learning to knit and sharing her worries. Hannah would like to hide the family away – but her position and her mother’s need for care have her in a bind. She’s also wondering why Professor Held runs so hot and cold, when she’s only tried to have conversations. The two have much in common – that they won’t see for ages – but the connection from the university will serve them both during the long years of occupation.
When Michael appears at Held’s doorway after his best friend is shot, Josef decides that enough is enough – and sets him up in his attic – the only view is over the rooftops. Despite the dangers, Michael is full of life, daring and imagination – frustrated by being ‘caged’ and worried for Elke – but alive. Alive in ways that Josef has forgotten – but this connection will bring the two closer together and encourage Josef’s return to a life lived with joy. As Hannah’s story progresses, her father’s shed, where he built and repaired bicycles becomes her refuge- from healing a wounded allied soldier and seeing him smuggled away, to building bicycles and finally being a part of the resistance delivering bicycles and packages, and finding her own simple and quiet ways to resist and help those she cares for. This isn’t a story that focuses on the atrocities of the war in a general way -but more the small moments, the emotions and the events that changed Josef and Hannah, along with Michael, Elke and Josef’s niece – and gives a sold sense of the atmosphere and the changes it brought under the brutal occupation.
Title: A View Across the Rooftops
Author: Suzanne Kelman
Genre: Family Saga, Friendship, Grief, Historic Elements, Historical Fiction, Political commentary, Romantic Elements, Second Chance, Setting: Netherlands, World War II
Published by: Bookouture
Published on: 25 October, 2019
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Heat: Get Your Copy: Amazon ♦ Barnes&Noble ♦ Kobo ♦ IndieBound ♦ Google
1941, Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. An unforgettable story of love, hope and betrayal, and a testament to the courage of humanity in history’s darkest days.
University professor Josef Held has never recovered from the loss of his beloved wife – and has no intention of ever letting anyone new into his quiet, safe world. It is a world where the clock ticks steadily in his mathematics classroom, even as the sinister beat of Nazi soldiers’ boots threaten to drown it out.
Terrified, Josef tries to keep his eyes on the ground as Jews across the city are forced into ghettos. But then Michael Blum, his most reluctant, infuriating pupil, tells Josef Jews like him will no longer be allowed to study at all. Josef can ignore the situation no longer. And, after the shock of seeing his neighbour killed on his own doorstep, he offers Michael a place to hide in an impulsive act of courage.
Michael is everything Josef is not: spontaneous, poetic, and unafraid to love. Even though his passionate relationship with a Dutch girl is strictly forbidden – for he is Jewish, and she is not. Somehow, in the quiet gloom of the attic, Josef doesn’t mind things about Michael that annoyed him in the classroom, and a bond begins to grow.
Remembering the pain of his own heartbreak, Josef is desperate to give Michael and his girlfriend a chance. He must go on as if nothing has changed: teaching his class, bowing to the Nazis. Beneath the fear, a thrill of defiance begins to bloom. But then Michael becomes perilously ill, and there is no way to get him the help he desperately needs.
As the dark days of war continue, with danger and betrayal at every turn, no-one can be trusted. If Michael is to survive and get back to the woman he loves, it will be down to Josef – to find the hero inside himself, and do whatever it takes to keep Michael alive. Even if it means putting his own life on the line.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: