I cannot begin to tell you how much I enjoyed Jan Eliasberg‘s WW2 historical fiction novel, Hannah’s War!
(Here’s a link to the vlog review)
Split between Germany, 1938, and New Mexico, 1945, readers learn of the work, and secrets, of Dr. Hannah Weiss. She’s a brilliant Austrian-Jewish physicist who’s been banished by her country, recruited by the (in)famous Manhattan Project, and is now suspected of treason. Jack Delaney, who has secrets of his own, is sent by the military to investigate. But he finds more than just seemingly incomplete stories (are they lies?!) as he interrogates Hannah. Similarly, she uncovers more than simply the physics needed to create an atomic bomb… the romantic tension is REAL, y’all.
This is a complex, nuanced story. You do have to pay attention to the time shifts between Hannah’s life before (in Germany) and her life now (in New Mexico). There are also a few instances in which Eliasberg switches from third person omniscient to a very personal, vulnerable first-person narration from Hannah herself.
I’ll be honest, at first, I wasn’t so sure how well I liked these stylistic-narrative shifts, largely due to the fact that there’s little to no warning indicating that they’ll happen. If you’re lucky, the previous chapter will end with a request that someone (again, usually Hannah) tells a story or “the truth.” Then, readers are thrown into the past as characters reminisce and/or reflect on what happened to them.
At the end of the day, however, I found that I quite enjoyed this format. The narrative shifts gave context and really made me, as a reader, “see” the action and the characters, thus bringing me deeper into Hannah’s world.
The pacing is impeccable, I flew through it! Eliasberg is so detailed and the plot is so engaging that it was difficult to put down. I loved how well thought-out the characters were. In fact, with Hannah in particular, I’m eager to learn more of her real-life inspiration, Dr. Lise Meitner. All the characters were simply phenomenal, the New Mexico part of the book only takes place over the span of a few days, but you really feel as though you’re sitting there with Jack, Hannah, and the others as they try to figure out if there really is a spy giving information to the Germans and to what extent. I especially loved how, despite Jack’s tough exterior that he must portray throughout the investigation, we readers get to see his vulnerable side. Along with that, I enjoyed how he and Hannah both coaxed each other’s vulnerable sides out of the other… even if their romance didn’t exactly go the route I was expecting (or hoped for). All of the characters, even those we meet briefly (I’m looking at you, Sabine), are so well developed, the story is incredibly enjoyable.
There is some swearing, and this is a World War Two book, so there’s some anti-semitism and sexism as well. If this is triggering, it may be a somewhat difficult read. That said, it’s a beautiful story and I absolutely adore the fact that Eliasberg focused on bringing Dr. Meitner’s contributions to history to light…even if it is through the lens of fiction.
In fact, perhaps that’s one of the things I like most–the fiction, the characters, the intrigue–it draws readers in, and hopefully inspires them to investigate further.
That’s all I’ve got for this week. Be sure to look out for next week’s posts on The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch
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