Author: Jenny Lecoat
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publication Date: 28 April, 2020
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
The Viennese Girl is a harrowing tale of survival from occupied Jersey during WWII, it is a fictional tale inspired by the life of Hedwig Bercu.
One of the things I really love about novels like this is that you never quite know where history and ends and imagination takes over. In this case I think I’m happier not knowing because the tales out of WWII are heartbreaking in their atrocity.
Hedy Bercu fled her home in Vienna to escape the Nazis and ended up on the Channel Island, Jersey. She’s never quite belonged completely in the community but when the German army takes over the island she becomes even more of an outcast.
Hedy is a Jewish girl from Vienna so she speaks German and has an accent making her seem a threat to the Jersey locals, they see her as one of THEM. Except that Hedy is Jewish and we all know how the Germans felt about the Jews.
Cut off from her home and separated from her family Hedy is distraught at the thought of what may have happened to them, knowing that there is no way of trying to make contact.
Measures are fast put in place to control the civilians and all Jews must be registered, a thought which chills Hedy to the core. Even more chilling is the eventual necessity of Hedy applying for a position working with the Germans as a translator, closely guarding her status. It was a surprise that she managed to get the position but finding someone who could speak fluent German as well as English was proving problematic.
The Viennese Girl looks at the deprivation and hardships faced by the people of Jersey throughout the Occupation, the horrific attitude of some of the German soldiers and the duress under which the leaders of the community were forced to watch conditions for their people get progressively worse.
Hedy is both horrified and terrified at the thought of working for the Germans, partly because if her status is discovered who knows what will happen to her. She is eventually able to use her position to do something to help her people and that makes having to work for the Germans that much more palatable.
The day of her interview she comes across Lieutenant Kurt Neumann in the compound and an unlikely friendship forms. Lieutenant Neumann is different from most of the other soldiers on Jersey, and his naivete soon shows through.
It is the slow blossoming friendship Hedy forms with Dorothea that was the most beautiful to follow. Hedy was not impressed at their first meeting, mainly because her dear friend Anton had shared information with her that Hedy most certainly didn’t want, or need, anyone knowing; and Dorothea seemed very naïve to the dangers of the information being overheard.
Over time Dorothea continues to make effort and Hedy is less than welcoming, Dorothea just doesn’t seem to understand how precarious Hedy’s situation is. It isn’t until Anton is drafted and shipped out that the two really start to bond.
Dorothea displays an unexpected strength when circumstances require it and we learn a new side to her. Hedy is secretly performing small acts of resistance which put her in extreme peril. All the while Lieutenant Neumann is becoming more and more disillusioned with his position.
The Viennese Girl is a story of love, of hope and of eventual new beginnings that wasn’t always easy to read because you know that these things, or things quite like them, actually happened to the people of Jersey. It was a story that I really enjoyed and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.
You can find Jenny Lecoat on Twitter.
The Viennese Girl is published by Allen & Unwin and is available now from Angus & Robertson Bookworld, Booktopia and where all good books are sold. In these uncertain times it would be great to try and support a local bookstore, many of the ones in my area have put systems in place to fulfil orders even though their physical stores may be closed to the public.