‘I nearly drowned and Walter rescued me. That changes everything.’
Leipzig, Germany, 1930s: Hetty Heinrich is a perfect German child. Her father is a high-ranking SS officer, her brother in the Luftwaffe, herself a member of the Bund Deutscher Mädel or League of German Girls. She believes resolutely in her country, and the man who runs it… until Walter changes everything. Blonde-haired, blue-eyes, perfect in every way Walter. The boy who saved her life. A Jew.
Anti-Semitism is growing by the day, and neighbours, friends and family members are turning on one another. As Hetty falls deeper in love with a man who is against all she has been taught, she begins to fight against her country, her family and herself. Hetty will have to risk everything to save Walter, even if it means sacrificing herself…
Inspired by author Louise Fein’s own family history, People Like Us is a heartbreaking and compelling coming-of-age story about forbidden love and prejudice, perfect for readers of The Book Thief and The Tattooist of Auschwitz.
In our Q&A with Fein, she says that one of the key messages she wants readers to take away from People Like Us is ‘how easy it can be to indoctrinate hearts and minds’. In no way is this message more apparent within the novel than through her representation of the protagonist, Hetty.
Unlike other novels I’ve read within this sub-genre, Hetty isn’t an outsider, a Jew or even a political enemy of the Reich – she’s a young German girl who believes very strongly (at least for the first portion of the novel) in the anti-Semitic, Nazi rhetoric that her parents, her teachers, the newspapers and the government have been spoon-feeding her all her life. It’s interesting to find yourself sympathising with a character who holds these sorts of beliefs, and yet – thanks to Fein’s brilliant character work – I did sympathise for Hetty. A lot. She’s a deeply complex character, and it’s through Fein’s portrayal of Hetty as a naïve and brainwashed youth that we’re able to understand how so many ordinary German citizens were misled by Nazi propaganda during this period.
Powerful, poignant and beautifully written, People Like Us is a triumphant debut that offers readers a meticulously researched portrait of Nazi Germany. My eyes were glued to the page as I followed Hetty and Walter’s heartrending journey, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t brought to tears.
I highly recommend People Like Us, it’s definitely a page-turner and the sort of book you won’t soon forget.