The Tower House. Down a secluded path, hidden by overgrown vines, the crumbling villa echoes with memories. Of the family who laughed and sang there, until the Nazis tore them from their home. And of the next woman to walk its empty rooms, whose courage in the face of evil could alter the course of history…
Germany 1940. As secretary to the leader of the SS, Magda spends her days sending party invitations to high-ranking Nazis, and her evenings distributing pamphlets for the resistance. But Magda is leading a dangerous double life, smuggling secrets out of the office. It’s a deadly game, and eventual exposure is a certainty, but Magda is driven by a need to keep the man she secretly loves safe as he fights against the Nazis…
Forty years later. Nina’s heart pounds as she steps into an uncertain future carrying a forged passport, a few bank notes, and a scribbled address for The Tower House taken from an intricate drawing she found hidden in her grandmother’s wardrobe. Separated from her family and betrayed by her country, Nina’s last hope is to trace her family’s history in the ruins of the past her grandmother ran from. But, when she finally finds the abandoned house, she opens the door to a forgotten story, and to secrets which will change everything: past, present, and future…
The Secretary is written in two timelines. On the one hand, you have the World War II timeline and story of Magda and, on the other hand, you have Nina and her life in post-World War II East Germany until the revolution which resulted in the fall of the Iron Curtain (and the Wall in Germany). Catherine Hokin did her homework 100%. All the historical details regarding life and the historical events in the GDR are very accurate. If you want to know more about Germany during the Cold War, this book is a great start! I felt a close connection with Nina. My life was in part and could have easily ended up being entirely like her life. You see, my family was a family of Germans who refused to join the Communist party and who got into trouble with the regime on multiple occasions because of our resistance. My uncle and his wife spent many months in an East German jail for trying to escape to West Germany. We believe that my uncle's own father, my grandfather, ratted him out. My grandfather was a passionate supporter of the East German government and its policies. The rest of the family saw the system for what it was: a system in which the Nazis were replaced by a party who pretended to be a Communist party, but was actually a totalitarian system. If the Wall had not fallen back in 1989, I would not have a college degree now and I truly believe I would either be in a Russian gulag, German prison, or even dead right now. Just like Nina in the book, I made some jokes about the conditions in East Germany that the government officials did not find funny at all. Just like Nina, I could not just stand by when injustice occurred. That is what made this book such an emotional story for me. I have read many WWII stories, but the combination of a WWII story and a pre-1989 East German story made me super nostalgic, extremely emotional, overwhelmed me at times, and resulted in me taking a little longer to finish the book because I had to take breaks to process what I had just read. Magda's story didn't make it any easier for me to finish the book. The gripping story of her bravery and loss added another level of emotions for me. I had to stop multiple times since I was reading in public and didn't want to break down in tears in front of strangers over a book. If you haven't experienced this part of history yourself, you may not be quite as emotionally attached to the characters, but you will definitely feel all kinds of emotions when reading this book! If I could, I would give this book more than 5 stars on Goodreads!
About the author:
Catherine Hokin is the author of two World War Two inspired novels set in Berlin, her favourite city. Following a History degree at Manchester University she worked in teaching, marketing and politics, while waiting for a chance to do what she really wanted which was to write full time. Her short stories have been published by iScot, Writers Forum and Myslexia magazines and she was the winner of the 2019 Fiction 500 Short Story Competition. She is a lover of strong female leads and a quest.
Catherine now lives in Glasgow with her American husband. She has two grown-up children – one of whom lives, very conveniently, in Berlin – and a life long addiction to very loud music.