My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The approaching Russian army forces people to flee from Heiligenbeil East Prussia in February 1945. Hurriedly packing belongings in a cart and hitching it to her bicycle, Gisela Cramer takes her three- and five-year-old nieces and joins Herr Holtzman and his elderly and senile spinster sisters on the wintery roads out of town in Liz Tolsma’s novel Daisies Are Forever, set in Germany at the end of World War II.
Two escaped allied POWS (Xavier and Mitch) cross the path of the refugees on one of their first nights at a roadside farmhouse. In an impulsive move to protect the soldiers (dressed as they are in German uniforms and in danger of being found out as allied escapees or German deserters) Gisela calls them both by German names dubbing the British Mitch, Josep Cramer and claiming he’s her husband.
Their party eventually reaches the main road where they manage to catch a ride on a military truck headed for Danzig. On that leg of the trip they meet Audra, another girl from their village and a wounded German soldier Kurt. He is instantly attracted to Gisela and decides that someday she will be his.
A nightmarish train trip from Danzig eventually brings them to Berlin where the horrors continue. Gisela and her band of refugees make their way through the bombed out streets and see deserter German soldiers hanging from lamp posts on Unter den Linden boulevard. But, wonder of wonders, they find her mother still alive. The ruse of Gisela and Mitch’s marriage is soon uncovered, however, which makes Kurt all the more determined to possess Gisela.
Throughout the tale Gisela grapples with guilt over deserting her loved ones in an earlier encounter with Russians soldiers. Mitch keeps hearing the voice of his father whose expectations he has never met. Kurt is haunted by the loss of his arm and the fact that he’ll never be able to play the piano again. Gisela and Mitch find strength to live through their personal challenges and the nightmare of war through their faith in God.
The story takes us to April of 1945 and the arrival of British troops in Berlin
This bleak book forced me to look at the horrors of war full in the face and at the same time, admire the courage of the people who live through it. Tolsma’s vivid writing helps us see the devastation of the war-touched landscapes, feel the panic of bombs going off all around, live the claustrophobia of crowded trains, bomb shelters, and bunkers, and experience the boredom and hopelessness of war–will this never end?
Four stars because the romantic plot thread felt repetitive with the same relationship tensions and interactions between Kurt, Gisela, Josep (Mitch), and Audra occurring again and again. I also found the setting very heavy with little let-up in the everlasting bombing, rubble and despair, so that by the end, I was almost numb to it all.
I received Daisies Are Forever as a gift from the publisher, Thomas Nelson, for the purpose of writing a review.