Motherland focuses on the Kappus family’s experiences during World War II in Germany. Frank Kappus is a reconstructive surgeon drafted into medical service for the German military shortly after losing his first wife in childbirth and quickly remarrying a compassionate young woman named Liesl. Liesl pours all her love and strength into caring for the three Kappus children: infant Jurgen, and two older boys, Hans and Ani, who have been traumatized by the death of their mother quickly followed by the absence of their father. As a result of lead poisoning and the strain of Allied bombings, little Ani begins to mentally unravel, and despite his tender age, it’s up to Hans to be the man of the house.
Liesl does her best to care for her three stepchildren in the face of ever dwindling food supplies, a house full of not altogether friendly refugees that fled the approaching Red Army, and, worse of all, the looming threat of the local physician, a full-fledged supporter of Nazi doctrine; he wants to send little Ani to the dreaded institution Hadamar, where, Liesl knows, Ani will either be inhumanely treated, euthanized, or both.
Because of the war and her husband’s absence, Liesl is having a hard time keeping body and soul together, so how is she supposed to keep the children fed and healthy, let alone keep little Ani’s vulnerable mind from shattering altogether?
Every day as the Allies get closer, the struggle for survival gets harder—a struggle intensified by the fact that neither Liesl nor her husband is an avid Nazi; constantly they are trying to work out a means for the surgeon’s escape from the military service he was drafted into. Yet, what will be the cost of Frank’s desertion, and is it a price he and his family can afford to pay?
Although Motherland is set in Germany during World War II, it doesn’t focus on the Holocaust. Instead, it’s a fictionalized account inspired by the author’s German family’s experiences during the war. On her website, author Maria Hummel calls Motherland her “attempt to reckon with the paradox of my father—a product of my grandparents’ fiercely protective love and their status as Mitläufer, Germans who ‘went along’ with Nazism, first reaping its benefits and later its consequences.”
I cannot speak highly enough of this novel, but if this is any indication, I read it in one day because I couldn’t put it down. I had to find out how the story ends, and the ending is haunting, to say the least.
I read this book via Netgalley, which in no way influenced my review.