LS Bassen's Summer of the Long Knives looks at the months leading up to the assassination of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. Hang on, asassination? Didn't he commit suicide when he knew he was going to lose the war? Well yes, he did indeed, so this book is what has been described as an "alternity", an alternative reality that could have happened in other circumstances but didn't.
The problem with this concept is that it left me questioning everything. I know the basics of World War II history but more from the British viewpoint so I'm not entirely sure of what went on behind the scenes in Nazi Germany. The title, Summer of the Long Knives, is a reference to the Night of the Long Knives, also called Operation Hummingbird (a name also used in the novel), in which a large number of people, mainly Nazi Brownshirts, were killed by Hitler and his followers, in order to avoid a coup d'état, settle old scores and remove critics of his regime.
In the novel, Lisel Ganz, an artist's model in Berlin, is horrifically raped and beaten by some Brownshirts when she is mistaken for a Jew. The graphic violence and vulgarity of the scene is hard to read (and rather shocked my dad when he happened to open it at this very page when idly flicking through !) but it is realistic unfortunately and also serves a purpose in the plot as her head injury gives her a strange gift (or curse?) - she is able to catch glimpses of the future. (The reader understands the references to the sickening burning smell of the death camps, for example, even when the characters in the story don't.) Lisel comes into contact with some other political enemies of Hitler who are plotting to assassinate him and, having glimpsed what could lie ahead, feels drawn to play her part in changing history.
It's a well-written novel which gives great insight into what life was like in Nazi Germany during the war years but I spent the whole time wondering if this was fact or fiction and where they blurred into one. If you're more knowledgeable of the ins and outs of German history, I'm sure you'd have no such qualms though, so it's a book I'd like to reread after having swotted up on what really went on behind the scenes in Nazi Germany just before the end of the war. It's also quite poignant, making you wonder how history could have played out so differently in a parallel universe.
star rating : 4/5
RRP : £11
Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.