Blog tour: 7 to 21 May 2020
‘I nearly drowned and Walter rescued me. That changes everything.’
Leipzig, 1930s Germany
Hetty Heinrich is a perfect German child. Her father is an SS officer, her brother in the Luftwaffe, herself a member of the BDM. She believes resolutely in her country, and the man who runs it.
Until Walter changes everything. Blond-haired, blue-eyed, perfect in every way Walter. The boy who saved her life. A Jew.
Anti-semitism is growing by the day, and neighbours, friends and family members are turning on one another. As Hetty falls deeper in love with a man who is against all she has been taught, she begins to fight against her country, her family and herself. Hetty will have to risk everything to save Walter, even if it means sacrificing herself …
Spanning a six-year time period from August 1933 to August 1939, People Like Us tells the fascinating story of Herta (Hetty) Heinrich who lives in Leipzig in Nazi Germany with her older brother, Karl, mother, Helene, and father, Franz.
Hetty’s father is a writer at a local newspaper called Leipziger but he ends up taking over from the previous owner and editor, Herr Drucker, and acquires a large house in the process. He also works for the Schutzstaffel (SS) and rises up the ranks to become a senior leader.
In 1929, when she was seven years old, Hetty and her brother used to play with a Jewish boy called Walter Keller and one afternoon he saves her from drowning in the local lake. Karl stops playing with Walter and it’s only when Walter and a girl called Freda Federmann are picked on by the new science teacher at school in 1934 and made to leave that Hetty is shocked to discover that this blond-haired and blue-eyed boy is actually Jewish and not ‘pure’ German blood and she should have nothing to do with him.
By this point, Hetty is hearing Hitler’s voice in her thoughts and she has grown up believing in all the Nazi ideology, like anti-semitism and eugenics, which is gaining momentum. Karl has joined the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth) and Hetty is in the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM) (League of German Girls) and Karl’s next step is to join the Luftwaffe.
It isn’t until three years later, in 1937, that Hetty sees Walter again. They begin meeting regularly in secret. They’re obviously very conflicted and try to resist their mutual attraction but both admit that they’ve liked each other since they were young. Hetty is confused as she’s seeing life through Walter’s eyes and she starts to challenge her beliefs, especially as she learns more about the current situation and what is happening to Jewish people.
Hetty’s father is spreading more Nazi propaganda through his newspaper and, in his SS role, he is privvy to lots of top secret information.
As Hetty and Walter’s relationship progresses, they put themselves in more and more danger, and the general situation in Germany worsens and the couple are risking everything. There would be severe repercussions, for them and others, if their relationship was discovered.
This is a really powerful historical fiction novel; beautifully written prose and very well researched, with details from the author’s own family background. It was so gripping and tense, and very dramatic – at times, I was holding my breath and wondering what was going to happen next. The fear and terror of people was palpable as various shocking atrocities were committed.
Overall, it was an emotional and poignant story and I really felt for Hetty and Walter, to be in such an awful position and in such danger. This book is so thought provoking and absorbing and I was sad that it had to end. It’s a compelling and heart-breaking, but ultimately hopeful, read and one that will stay with me a long time. I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading more from Louise Fein.
Buy the book
People Like Us by Louise Fein can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle now and on 6 August in hardback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.
About the author
Louise Fein holds an MA in Creative Writing from St Mary’s University. Prior to studying for her masters, she ran a commodity consultancy business following a career in banking and law. She lives in Surrey with her family. People Like Us is inspired by her family history, and by the alarming parallels she sees between the early 1930s and today.
Thanks to Victoria Joss at Head of Zeus for my proof copy of People Like Us and for my place on the blog tour.
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