The Roses Underneath
Ypsilon & Co. Press, January 2014
Having never known the horrors, it is impossible to imagine the seemingly insurmountable challenge of rebuilding life in war-ravaged Germany. That is, unless you’ve read The Roses Underneath. History books took a multi-layered, complicated, convoluted, deplorable conflict and turned it into a black and white “Germans are bad, Americans save them from themselves” issue. Ms. Yetmen sets the story straight in a remarkable account of one courageous woman who is forced to change her entire outlook from her single belief of living only to survive, to believing in something bigger; with a determination so strong that she would be willing to die for that cause.
This engrossing debut novel features Anna, a determined mother, begrudgingly separated from her husband to protect their young daughter. With only an elderly, ill family friend as support; Anna is forced to take a job with the Americans to provide scraps of food and maintain the tiny, cramped quarters the three females share. Her enlightening journey illustrates the divisions among Germans; for not everyone hailed Hitler.
People like her husband embraced the notion of Communism and thus became enemies of not only the Nazis, but also the Americans. The SchutzStaffel (SS), an elite force within the Nazi party that restricted membership to only “pure Aryan Germans” were perhaps the most dangerous and volatile among Hitler’s supporters. Anna and the quiet majority would shun these notions if only their lives, and more importantly, the lives of their families did not hinge on it. At the end of the war, families have been ripped apart and relocated and Reds, Nazi supporters and those vehemently opposed to the ludicrous ideals, are commingled. An attempt to establish trust with new people is futile; yet there are simply no other options.
While the dynamics among the people alone would make for a compelling story, Ms. Yetmen gives us so much more by highlighting the intrigue surrounding the overwhelming burden of returning amazing works of art, previously stolen by the Nazis, to rightful owners. Anna timidly becomes involved simply due to her knowledge and admiration of fine art, but is quickly immersed in the bitter battle among the Nazis desperately clinging to their pilfered spoils, the Americans that wish to return the art to proper owners and the few opportunists (Germans and Americans) that wish to procure a piece for individual gain.
Alone, but no longer frightened, Anna is determined to sort out the bad folks from the good; even as the mystery delves deeper and darker than just stolen art. Ms. Yetmen amazes in her ability to tell this heart-wrenching, yet inspiring story in a way that is immensely rewarding and satisfying to the reader. By injecting tiny bits of humour, hints of romance and reminders of the strength, courage and resolve we each are capable of, Ms. Yetmen delivers a tale that has absolutely everything this reader wants from a novel. Thank-you to my Goodreads friend, Susan, for this recommendation!
Reviewed by jv poore, February 2014.