Posts Tagged ‘Fifteen Words’

The Watcher Cover

** My thanks to Rachel Gilbey  for my copy of this book and for inviting me to be part of the blog tour **



It’s 1949 when Netta’s father Max is released from a Siberian POW camp and returns to his home in occupied Germany. But he is not the man the little girl is expecting – the brave, handsome doctor her mother Erika told her stories of. Erika too struggles to reconcile this withdrawn, volatile figure with the husband she knew and loved before, and, as she strives to break through the wall Max has built around himself, Netta is both frightened and jealous of this interloper in the previously cosy household she shared with her mother and doting grandparents. Now, if family life isn’t tough enough, it is about to get even tougher, when a murder sparks a police investigation, which begins to unearth dark secrets they all hoped had been forgotten.


My Thoughts & Review:

The Watcher is the continuation of the story of Max, Erika and Netta Portner from Fifteen Words (my review can be found here).
Often there is a danger with follow up books that they don’t meet the high standard set initially, but here I think it’s fair to say that The Watcher is a wonderfully written book that is packed with strong emotions and exceptional characters.

The physical and psychological scars of the war are deeply imprinted on the souls of  Max and Erika.  Upon his return home Max is not the man he once was, and far from the man that Netta is expecting from the tales told my her mother and grandparents.  But more difficult, is that he is so far from the man that Erika used to know, his traumatic experiences in the Siberian POW camp have reshaped this character beyond recognition.  Today he would probably be diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), but not back in 1949.  The murder investigation and the secrets that are unearthed add an extra layer to this well crafted plot.

As before, the author writes with a wonderful descriptive quality that gives the reader fully detailed account by these characters, there is a rawness to the prose that evokes emotion from the reader and almost makes you want to reach out to these characters.  You become invested in their lives and well being.  There is a poignancy in any tale about survivors of WWII, but here there’s something more.  Perhaps because I read Fifteen Words and witnessed the suffering that the characters endured previously I felt more of a connection reading The Watcher, but I really felt this book tugging on the heartstrings and lingering in my head long after I finished reading it.

I would thoroughly recommend reading both Fifteen Words and The Watcher, they are definite must reads for fans of WWII fiction.

You can buy a copy of The Watcher via Amazon UK



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Welcome along to another post to celebrate Clink Street Publishing’s Second Annual Blogival!  The event is running from 1st August right through to 31st August across a wealth of wonderful blogs and features some amazing reviews, guest posts and other bookish goodness for you lucky readers!

Today I am delighted to share a guest piece written by Monika Jephcott-Thomas about the inspirations behind Fifteen Words.


Fifteen Words Fifteen Words Cover

Two young doctors form a profound and loving bond in Nazi Germany; a bond that will stretch them to the very limits of human endurance. Catholic Max – whose religious and moral beliefs are in conflict, has been conscripted to join the war effort as a medic, despite his hatred of Hitler’s regime.

His beloved Erika, a privileged young woman, is herself a product of the Hitler Youth. In spite of their stark differences, Max and Erika defy convention and marry.

But when Max is stationed at the fortress city of Breslau, their worst nightmares are realised; his hospital is bombed, he is captured by the Soviet Army and taken to a POW camp in Siberia. Max experiences untold horrors, his one comfort the letters he is allowed to send home: messages that can only contain Fifteen Words. Back in Germany, Erika is struggling to survive and protect their young daughter, finding comfort in the arms of a local carpenter. Worlds apart and with only sparse words for comfort, will they ever find their way back to one another, and will Germany ever find peace?

Fifteen Words is a vivid and intimate portrayal of human love and perseverance, one which illuminates the German experience of the war, which has often been overshadowed by history.


My Thoughts & Review:

This is such an incredibly powerful story, it’s so moving and thought provoking.
I have been quite lucky in that I’ve read a number of books that allow readers to see WWII and the aftermath from the side of the German people and this is another book that affords readers the view of German perspective.  Here we see the tale through the eyes of two characters who’s settings are vastly different but and yet they both endure some of the same psychological factors.  Max is a German army doctor who is captured by the Soviet Army and taken to Siberia, where he struggles to keep the prisoners in the POW camp fit and healthy, being given a very strict target that only a proportion of the inmates may be permitted to be ill at any one time.  He also has to juggle caring for the officers of the Soviet Army and their families, and keeping on the right side of the guards in the camp.  His wife Erika, also a doctor, struggles with life without her beloved husband.  She is also heavily pregnant and travels to the home of her inlaws where it will be safer for her to give birth.
Both Max and Erika struggle with loneliness, desperation, and failing optimism.  However, the fifteen words that they are permitted to send each other give hope, courage, determination and love.  The power of those fifteen words can never be underestimated, and the danger they pose cannot be forgotten. 

The descriptive qualities of the writing are absolutely mesmerising, readers get such a clear picture of the perilous and painful journey that Max and his fellow prisoners make to Siberia.  The imagery conjured by the beautifully flowing descriptions was so crisp and added to the aura of power this book has.
Characterisation is so important, and here I think the author has matched the creations perfectly with her plot.  Each of the characters is multi-faceted and as the book progresses, more layers become apparent making them feel more real.  They are all damaged by what they have endured before the war as well as during it, the aftermath leaving inexplicable scars mentally as well as physically.

Such an incredibly poignant and moving tale that seems to have lived on in my head long after I finished reading and one I would highly recommend for fans of WWII fiction.

My thanks to Rachel at Authoright Marketing and Publicity for the opportunity to read this and take part in the Blogival.

You can buy a copy via Amazon

Guest Post:

I was doing some research into my family history, as most of us do at some stage of our lives and, also as most of us do whose parents grew up during the world wars, I felt their stories were the stuff of novels. Unlike many who will be reading this however, my parents were both German. They met during the Second World War and were eventually separated by it, as Max and Erika are in the novel – my father having to go off and serve as a doctor in the German army, not because he wanted to (he was not a supporter of the Nazi party), but because he was conscripted, like so many young men across the globe in the early ’40s.

The novel is heavily inspired by the real-life trials and tribulations of my parents’ early married lives – simply because they are so inherently dramatic – whilst allowing me to depict the complexity of growing up in Nazi Germany among the potent forces of religion and fascism competing for young souls. It is also an exploration of the strength of human relationships, which the war tested greatly, in an age when letter writing was one of the few long distance forms of communication available to most; when the fighting separated husbands and wives, children and parents for extensive periods of time and over vast distances.

In the book, Max is a POW in a Russian labour camp on the edge of the Arctic for four long and painful years. I was shocked to find out, during my research for this novel, that German POWs in those Soviet labour camps were only allowed to send letters home if they contained a maximum of fifteen words. So, in the novel, Max struggles over how to express everything he wants to tell Erika with such limitations. He enlists the help of his more artistic friends to help him. But finally in despair he writes something damning. It becomes one of the themes of the book: how we can say so much in so few words to beautiful or destructive effect.

The book was written reasonably quickly, in just a few months, but that was mainly because I was steeped in all the stories from the research I had already done into my family history, which had unearthed all manner of letters, documents, photos and tape recordings. The real work was deciding which stories to follow in the novel. Apart from the themes I wanted to explore, the stories I eventually focused on were also the most gripping, page-turning aspects of the history. So the book has its fair share of explosions, air raids, prison breakouts, emergency medical procedures on the battlefield, not to mention a pregnant woman hanging on to the outside of a speeding train!

Fifteen Words is however, primarily a love story. Anyone who likes World War 2 fiction will find it not only interesting but, I think, refreshing. This book is unusual in that there are not many books written in English about the German experience of WW2. Many early readers of the manuscript found it an eye-opener, informing them about the war in a way they never thought of before, without it being a text which tries to rewrite history. In no way does it attempt to say the Nazis weren’t to blame for the atrocities of the war, but it merely points out that not all Germans were Nazis. As with any war, which we see all too often today, there are many civilian casualties, from all strata of society. In this very human story I hope I have been able to reaffirm how all of us, from whatever nation, for all our differences, still suffer and rejoice in remarkably similar ways.


About the Author:

Monika Jephcott Thomas grew up in Dortmund Mengede, north-west Germany. She moved to the UK in 1966, enjoying a thirty year career in education before retraining as a therapist. Along with her partner Jeff she established the Academy of Play & Child Psychotherapy in order to support the twenty per cent of children who have emotional, behavioural, social and mental health problems by using play and the creative Arts. A founder member of Play Therapy UK, Jephcott Thomas was elected President of Play Therapy International in 2002.


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