He arrives in Britain, an orphan clad in a tattered Hitler Youth uniform, terribly traumatised by what he has seen and what he has had to do to survive.
His mother had been English, and his German father had risen high in the Nazi party.
Now he is to live with his Aunt Elizabeth and her family.
The opening pictures paint pictures of Stefan’s arrival, and his new family’s reaction. It is very well done, beautifully written and picking up just the right details.
Elizabeth is apprehensive, and not just for the expected reasons. Stefan’s arrival stirs painful memories.
And so the story moves away from the German boy and into the past.
The lives of two young sisters, Elisabeth and Karen, their half-Jewish friend, Rachel, and her brother Michael were twisted together.
In their stories, themes of love, passion, sisterhood, friendship, loneliness, compromise, are all explored with intelligence and understanding.
And those stories are set in a changing world, moving through the aftermath of the First World War, to bohemian life in twenties London, to family lives in the thirties, to the rise of Nazism in the thirties, to the Second World War and beyond.
The scope is quite wonderful, but it is the lives that are important. Ordinary loves lived in extraordinary times.
So many things were right.
There were perfectly drawn characters that evolved as the story advanced. I understood their feelings, their actions, their relationships.
So many places came to life, and the period was perfectly evoked.
The prose, the storytelling, the telling details …. everything was there.
And yet I could not quite love The German Boy.
Because that boy in the title wasn’t there. I wanted to understand the boy I met at the very beginning of the story. I wanted to know how he would grow, what would happen to him.
In the end there were some answers. But Stefan’s story was compromised, playing second fiddle to the story that came before.
And then he disappeared, his story unresolved.
I might have liked this book more if it had been explained – and titled – differently.
As the story of a group of family and friends it was of the highest quality.
But I had been led to expect something different, something a little less usual …