Publication Date: June 19, 2013
Formats: Ebook, Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction
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Across Great Divides is a timeless story of the upheavals of war, the power of family, and the resiliency of human spirit. When Hitler came to power in 1933, one Jewish family refused to be destroyed and defied the Nazis only to come up against another struggle—confronting apartheid in South Africa.
Sixteen-year-old Eva and her twin sister, Inge, witness their lives in Berlin change before their eyes. Their best friend, Trudy, betrays them when she becomes a member of the Hitler Youth. A valuable family heirloom, a beautiful emerald and diamond pendant necklace, is confiscated by the Nazis as they continue to harass Jewish families and businesses.
Their younger brother, Max, a member of the underground resistance, sees even greater danger ahead. Their father, Oskar, a diamond merchant with a thriving business, refuses to leave his beloved Germany and believes Hitler will eventually fail. Their mother, Helene, the elegant matriarch of the family, holds her family together.
The family is conflicted whether they should leave home. But after the devastation of Kristallnacht in 1938, they finally flee Germany with the help of the underground resistance after hiding many diamonds. They seek refuge in Antwerp, but war follows them as Belgium is occupied by the Germans.
A young German man, a nun, a countess conspiring against the Nazis, and a winegrower secretly hiding Jewish children, help them to escape Europe. They hike over the Pyrenees Mountains while eluding German patrols and Spanish informers. Then, they spend agonizing days on a ship bound for Rio de Janeiro that is targeted by a German U-boat. As Rio’s diamond business is corrupt, they decide to go to South Africa, another diamond market.
In Cape Town, Eva encounters an impoverished colored woman, Zoe, who is in need of work. The family hires Zoe as their maid and shields her and her daughter, Zola, from the dangers they face in the slums of District Six and from the horrors of apartheid, which are all too reminiscent of Nazi Germany.
But, when Max gets into trouble with the South African police over his participation in an anti-apartheid march, will he be subject to imprisonment?
In a thrilling conclusion, the family comes to terms with the evils of society, both in their memories and current situation in South Africa.
During the rise of Nazi Germany, one Jewish family refuses to be separated and controlled by the Nazi regime. Twins Eva and Inge live a privileged life along with their brother Max in Berlin, Germany. Their father, Oskar is prominent in the diamond business and is able to provide for the family; but as Hitler’s influence grows, Jewish business owners are forced to close, and families are forced to give up their belongings. Discrimination against the Jews grow and it becomes harder to live day to day, Max becomes part of the underground and Eva and Inge lose their best friend, Trudy to the Nazi cause. The family is forced to leave the home and their country to escape the inevitable. Using the few precious diamonds that he has left, Oskar and his family escape Germany through a treacherous path that leads them through Belgium, Spain, Rio Di Janeiro and finally finding peace in Cape Town, South Africa only to be confronted with the hate of apartheid.
Across Great Divides is a unique look into one family’s journey to escape the hatred of Nazi Germany. It was interesting to see how a family of means still struggled under the discrimination imposed by Hitler. Their determination and hardship while they fled their home felt very real and emotional as the family risks everything to stay together and find a place where they can be at peace. It was interesting to see the spread of hatred in the Nazi regime followed them all the way to South America. The family’s experience with apartheid in South Africa was intriguing now that they were on the other side of the discrimination. I enjoyed this book from the historical perspective and the focused look into one family’s unique experience; however, the writing was done in third person and many large events were told to the reader in a sentence and not experienced through a character. While I felt the journey through the whole family, I struggled with not being able to truly identify with one character.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
Monique loves writing that twitches her smiling muscles or transports her to another time or place. Her passion for writing began as a young girl while penning stories in a journal. Now she looks forward to deepening her passion by creating many unique stories that do nothing less than intrigue her readers.
Monique was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and her grandparents were European Jews who fled their home as Hitler rose to power. It’s their story that inspired her to write Across Great Divides, her debut, historical fiction novel.
Monique holds a degree in journalism from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and is also the author of a children’s book Once Upon a Time in Venice. In her free time, she loves to travel, play tennis, pursue her passion for writing, and read historical fiction. In 2008, she was chosen by the American Jewish Committee’s ACCESS program to travel to Berlin, Germany, on the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, to explore German and Israeli relations along with 20 other Jewish professionals from across the U.S.
Discover more at Monique Roy’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
Berlin, Germany 1932
Eva first saw him on a mild summer night at the Berliner Philharmonie concert hall, minutes before a symphony. She watched from the balcony as the hall slowly filled up with people—women in glittering dresses, impeccably dressed gentlemen, and children scrubbed clean and in their finest clothes. Tuxedoed ushers greeted streams of guests as they floated into the great hall, soon to be riveted by sweeping, romantic music.
Eva concentrated on the stage setup—the position of the strings and basses in relation to the flutes and clarinets, as well as the talented musicians who readied themselves onstage, eager to deliver a truly spectacular performance. In fact, Eva always observed the way the instruments were positioned as it revealed a great deal about the performance to come.
Suddenly, her concentration was broken when the hall went silent and the audience’s attention was directed to a man who appeared in the second floor’s golden balcony. He was a recognizable and popular figure. He was not alone. A beautiful, young blonde woman clung to his side. Before he took his seat, he turned to the audience and outstretched his right arm in a rigid, formal salute. Many in the audience raised their right hands in response. Without a sound or any movement, he acknowledged the guests with his hypnotic, pale blue eyes and spellbinding manner. He possessed a strange and powerful magnetism. Gentle murmurs emerged from the audience and quickly hushed as darkness enveloped them.
Eva leaned over the balcony’s rail and stared across the hall at the man. She knew who he was. Everyone did.
“Is that –” her sister, Inge, softly whispered.
“Adolf Hitler,” Eva cut her off, maintaining her stare. “The leader of the National Socialist Party. Many say he is a man of great power and may be Germany’s last hope.”
Inge’s eyes, identical to her sister’s, grew wide with curiosity.
“Beyond his physical appearance, Inge, I’ve heard he is a captivating speaker who has enraptured the hearts of many Germans,” Eva said, observing the audience as they waited to be dazzled by the symphony.
Eva noticed the finely dressed audience. Germans had a pride of appearance and a regard for cleanliness, which filled her with admiration. On the surface, there seemed to be prosperity in Germany. But, the extravagant dresses and spotless white collars only obscured the poverty and hardship that lay beyond the building’s sturdy walls.
Eva felt fortunate to be at the symphony, considering that Germany suffered greatly as the Great Depression left millions unemployed and the country in shambles. From elected leaders, the people of Germany received nothing but indecision and chaos. The Germans lacked confidence in their befuddled, degenerate government, the Weimar Republic.
Eva recalled a recent conversation with her father who told her that the depression in Germany was merely a gift—a grand opportunity for Hitler to make promises to the people of Germany—vows that would in turn build trust and support. Hitler emphasized rebuilding the broken German state and promised a glorified future as he set out to consolidate power, and force old President Paul von Hindenburg to make him chancellor.
But it would be several months until Hitler ruled Germany. And on that night, like other nights, Hitler wanted to make his presence known. Eva continued to watch him as he finally took his seat and turned his gaze toward the stage. She then forced her eyes back to the orchestra.
A silence permeated the air as the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra awaited its cue. Conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler stood awkwardly on the podium and bowed to the audience. He then turned to the musicians and lifted his baton. The meandering of his baton in melodic shapes summoned the first note of Beethoven's Symphony # 9 ("Choral"). His right hand and baton roughly kept the beat; his left hand weaved round in flowing patterns, while his head and torso constantly jerked.
Rhythmic sounds full of sweeping grandeur wafted through the air. Eva felt pulsating vibrations to the core of her stomach. The ebb and flow of sounds were like a pulse, a heartbeat.
Eva closed her eyes for a brief moment. Even with her eyes closed, she could see the movement of the instruments in front of her. From the thundering dances of the bass and cello, the sound dropped back to a soft dance of full pizzicato strings. This faded ever so slightly and then became an extraordinary progression of beats. The violins slowly initiated a towering climax and then an explosion of full orchestra, giving way to a quieter current of sounds.
She remembered coming to the symphony as a little girl, when she would sit in awe between her parents, Oskar and Helene, her eyes glued to the symphony’s sudden quick movements followed by slow and melodic ones. The music always inspired her, infused her with hope, and uplifted her spirits.
As she observed the audience, she sensed the intense emotion of the people around her— how suddenly as the joyful melody enraptured them, they emerged from their dark worlds and their eyes shined like lights.
Distant, locked away memories vividly spilled back into her mind now. Eva stood in glittering shoes on her father’s feet as he waltzed her around the parlor of their home. As they weaved around heavy antiques, Eva held onto her father’s strong arms as they danced together to the sound of music from an old music box. Inge sat shyly in the background, enjoying the spectacle before her, smiling at the graceful, light movements of her sister’s feet as she awaited her turn to dance with her father.
A glint in the distance caught Eva’s attention. She peered through the mother of pearl opera glasses across the audience. Her searching blue eyes scanned the audience and stopped at the sight of a beautiful woman wearing the most striking emerald pendant necklace set in harmony with a starry radiance of brilliant cut diamonds. She had never seen anything like it before. Fearing the woman might glance in her direction, Eva directed the looking glasses back to the stage. A few minutes later, she would steal another glimpse at the unique piece of jewelry that filled her with envy. Her eyes shifted to Inge, but her attention could not be broken.
The mid-afternoon sun cast a soft, golden glow on the autumn foliage along the path to the auction house. The air was crisp and silent, the only sound being the rustle of dried leaves underfoot. Oskar reached the steps to the opulent auction house and paused briefly. Dressed in a fine black suit and gabardine overcoat, he reached for his gold pocket watch.
"Almost time," he said to himself.
For luck, he kissed the inscription on the back of the watch that read: “Oskar, my love always, Helene.”
He climbed the stone steps to the entrance. The entryway was marked by arched windows and glass doors that lead to a large foyer, the Great Hall, adorned with high golden ceilings, sparkling chandeliers and marble floors. This was where elegant society with a cultivated taste in art mingled and where time could stand still for a lingering moment.
Oskar entered the rosewood parlor to peruse the dazzling display of estate jewelry, including diamond rings, strands of pearls, gold, platinum and silver rings, necklaces, brooches, and bracelets. Roaming the room, he slowly inspected the jewelry, impressed by the splendor around him. He walked towards a piece a few feet away. The jewel glimmered back at him. When he was only inches from the jewelry, he stopped.
The familiarity of the gem startled him. He went closer and examined the emerald and diamond necklace. A replica or a piece he had cut with his very hands? He recalled the brilliantly green emerald glowing like a ball of green fire. It was one of a kind, a finely cut pendant necklace, fit for a queen. Looking at its beauty, Oskar recognized the stunning emerald set with a gleaming radiance of many brilliant cut diamonds.
Everything from the diamonds to the emerald to every intricate detail would always be etched in his mind. Oskar had inherited the gemstones when his father died in 1925, a time when Berlin culture was considered decadent and sophisticated, amid unprecedented social and artistic freedom. When Oskar took over his father’s prosperous diamond business, the city had become an intellectual center where artists, musicians, and writers thrived. It was a special time, even for jewelers like Oskar.
He then remembered the woman who bought the necklace from him five years prior. She was a younger woman with soft eyes, an alluring face, and a lovely, long shapely neck. Her name did not come to mind. He recalled she came alone. She bought the necklace nonchalantly, as if she was buying a loaf of bread, and he never heard from her again. Why was the pendant necklace here? He clenched his jaw in thought and scratched his head.
And then it was time.
As the auctioneer opened the bidding to the eager crowd, a white-gloved porter walked the necklace around the room for all to see. There were five or six players, maybe more. Oskar was not certain.
At Oskar’s bid of 25,000 Reichsmarks, applause sounded around the room, and stirred murmurings of astonishment.
The hammer came down. Oskar left the room with a victorious smile.