”The Vanishing Sky,” by L. Annette Binder (Bloomsbury Publishing, ISBN 978-63557-467-8)
So, what was daily life like in Hitler’s Germany for the average family?
That’s the question L. Annette Binder tries to answer in her gripping and memorable novel, “The Vanishing Sky,” a fictional treatment inspired by her father’s experiences as a Hitler Youth in Nazi Germany. Binder immigrated from Germany to the United States as a small child and lives in Lyme, N.H.
Binder tells the story of the Huber family. Josef, a teacher and unquestioning believer in Hitler’s cause, finds himself slipping in his usefulness as a father and husband, while Etta, his wife, binds the family together. Their two sons include Max, who returns from the Russian front with a paralyzing case of post-traumatic stress disorder, and Georg, who joins the Hitler Youth.
However, all is not well with either the Huber family or Nazi Germany which in the waning days of World War II faces the advances of the Russians to the east and the Allies to the west. The Hubers, like other German civilians, find themselves victimized by unknown informants who report their activities to the totalitarian regime as their Jewish neighbors mysteriously disappear.
Officials take Max away and Etta goes in search of him. When she finally finds the shell of her former son in a convalescent home, the full horror of his fate becomes clear. Meanwhile, Georg and his fellow Hitler Youth find themselves changing roles from mere followers of the Fuhrer to unlikely soldiers facing an unrelenting enemy.
Binder’s focus through Georg’s point of view particularly is compelling. Her description of his experiences as he deserts while riding on a truck toward the front lines is gripping and powerful. As he makes his way toward home, George finds help in unexpected places while finding abuse from both German and American soldiers.
Binder’s story ranks with Jerzy Kosinski’s “The Painted Bird” with its vivid depiction of Georg’s desperate journey across Nazi Germany. Her blood-curdling description of Allied bombings evokes our sympathy for the German people.
Etta manages to free Max from his confinement that is more prison than hospital and they flee. She also nearly finds Georg, but cruel fate intervenes as Georg continues on his homeward journey but Etta and Max do not.
With an evocative story echo of events and place, Binder has created a moving and powerful masterpiece.