A Story of Family, Secrets and Survival under Hitler
A stunning family memoir of one woman’s search for her German grandmother’s history during the Second World War
'A lyrical, engrossing and essential read' - Sathnam Sanghera
'A superbly nuanced reclamation of history and family secrets' - Brian Van Reet, author of Spoils
What does it mean to be on the wrong side of history?
Svenja O'Donnell’s beautiful, aloof grandmother Inge never spoke about the past. All her family knew was that she had grown up in a city that no longer exists on any map: Königsberg in East Prussia, a footnote in history, a place that almost no one has heard of today. But when Svenja impulsively visits this windswept Baltic city, something unlocks in Inge and, finally, she begins to tell her story.
It begins in the secret jazz bars of Hitler’s Berlin. It is a story of passionate first love, betrayal, terror, flight, starvation and violence. As Svenja teases out the threads of her grandmother’s life, retracing her steps all over Europe, she realises that there is suffering here on a scale that she had never dreamt of. And finally, she uncovers a desperately tragic secret that her grandmother has been keeping for sixty years.
Inge's War listens to the voices that are often missing from our historical narrative – those of women caught up on the wrong side of history. It is a book about memory and heritage that interrogates the legacy passed down by those who survive. It also poses the questions: who do we allow to tell their story? What do we mean by family? And what will we do in order to survive?
“Exceptional... It presents a new perspective on the conflict: that of ordinary Germans who endured terrible suffering under the Nazi regime, but also that of women caught up on the wrong side of history. I could not put it down”
Caroline Sanderson, Bookseller (Editor's Choice)
“The author, a graceful, eloquent writer, follows a trail that sometimes takes her through deeply troubling terrain, and she amply reveals the cruelty and compassion that characterize times of war. Haunting family stories that serve as a metaphor for human suffering everywhere”
Kirkus Starred Review
“This exceptional account transforms a private tragedy into a universal story of war and survival”
Publisher's Weekly Starred Review
“Too often the most dramatic, fascinating human stories are lost to history because they are never documented. Thankfully, Svenja O'Donnell has rescued the extraordinary saga of her grandmother, a saga filled with love and betrayal and secrets, a saga that illuminates the nature of war and memory. Using her remarkable skills as a reporter and writer, O'Donnell has recorded this story so meticulously and beautifully that it will remain forever in our consciousness”
David Grann, New York Times bestselling author of KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON and THE LOST CITY OF Z
“It feels increasingly urgent to remember the lessons of World War II and I cannot think of anyone better than Svenja O'Donnell to navigate us through this particular slice of history. A lyrical, engrossing and essential read”
“Inge’s War is a superbly nuanced reclamation of history and family secrets. With much empathy and skill, Svenja O’Donnell gives us a long withheld, powerful true story of love and suffering on the wrong side of the battle lines in World War II. It’s a timely reminder that a nation’s politics and people are not one and the same, that the innocent are sometimes punished for collective sins, and that women, across ages and cultures, have silently borne the brunt of war in ways we are only beginning to reckon with”
Brian Van Reet, author of SPOILS
“This compelling testimonial details the deprivations German citizens faced during the war and reveals a dark part of Danish history. The perspective is enlightening and the accounts of sexual abuse are timely to the continuing Me Too discourse. This memoir deserves a wide audience.”
Booklist Starred Review
“Through O’Donnell’s meticulous reporting and sensitive, compelling storytelling [Inge’s War] becomes the gripping story of anyone navigating life in a war zone… a riveting and important story, one that focuses so tightly on Inge and her family in its level of detail — physical, temporal and emotional — that it becomes universal. The reader can see these places, feel what these people felt, understand their trauma and pain. Living in wartime becomes palpably real”
Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune
“With Inge’s War, O’Donnell has created a story that reads like a novel filled with fascinating history and excellent detective work”