Author: Vesper Stamper
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction
Publishing Date: October 25, 2022
About the Book
A riveting story about the rivalry between two brothers living on opposite sides of the Berlin wall during its construction in the 1960s, and how their complicated legacy and dreams of greatness will determine their ultimate fate.
A city divided. A family fractured. Two brothers caught between past and present.
Berlin, 1961. Rudi Möser-Fleischmann is an aspiring photographer with dreams of greatness, but he can’t hold a candle to his talented, charismatic twin brother Peter, an ambitious actor. With the sudden divorce of their parents, the brothers find themselves living in different sectors of a divided Berlin; the postwar partition strangely mirroring their broken family. But one night, as the city sleeps, the Berlin Wall is hurriedly built, dividing society further, and Rudi and Peter are forced to choose between playing by the rules and taking their dreams underground. That is, until the truth about their family history and the growing cracks in their relationship threaten to split them apart for good.
From National Book Award-nominated, critically acclaimed author-illustrator Vesper Stamper comes a stark look at how resentment and denial can strain the bonds of brotherhood to the breaking point.
About the Author
Born in Germany and raised in New York City, Vesper Stamper writes and illustrates novels which tell, through both words and pictures, stories of history’s rhymes. Her debut illustrated YA novel, What the Night Sings, about the aftermath of the Holocaust through the eyes of a young musician, was a National Book Award Nominee, a National Jewish Book Award Finalist, a Morris Award Finalist, Golden Kite Honor Book and Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner, and was named one of the Best YA Books of 2018/9 by YALSA, the Wall Street Journal and Kirkus. Vesper has a BFA in Illustration from Parsons and an MFA in Illustration as Visual Essay from School of Visual Arts and is the host of the podcast Vesperisms: The Art of Thinking for Yourself, which aims to cultivate a rehumanized worldview through artistic thinking. She lives with her husband, filmmaker Ben Stamper, and her two teenagers, in the Northeast, and teaches illustration at School of Visual Arts.
Things are heating up in Berlin. Fraternal twins Rudi and Peter are complete opposites. Rudi is all about toeing the line, doing what’s best for the party. But he’s sick of living in his brother’s shadow. Peter is the golden child, and great things land in his lap. An aspiring actor, Peter has big dreams. But when he joins an underground cabaret and starts to understand what is really going on in Berlin, he sees their world in a new light.
Meanwhile, Rudi turns introspective. His feelings towards his family start to turn sour. He doesn’t understand what’s going on with his brother. And then, his parents decide to separate, and Rudi’s life takes a dramatic turn with drastic consequences.
While reading, I definitely related more to Peter. He was nothing like what I first assumed. Peter and Rudi’s story of their family wasn’t uncommon. Some people knew what was really going on, and others bought everything they were told. Even when faced with evidence, they refused to see what was right in front of them. Rudi is such a person, and that’s why I didn’t much care for him. But his character is representative of so many people of the time.
I think what happened in Berlin was such a shocking time in the world’s history. Germany was just coming out of a war, and they went from one horrible situation to another. People were tired, and fighting an enemy that followed your every move was hard. This novel only touches the surface of what was going on. How terrible the Stasi was, the poverty in the East, and the lengths people went to, to get to the West aren’t really covered. I think that works here because this is a YA book. I appreciate that Stamper included mental health issues in the book, though it isn’t deeply explored, and again, I feel that it was a choice to keep the material engaging enough for its target audience.
I am a bit disappointed by the ending. Honestly, I was reading in the Netgalley app, and the book didn’t have a page-turning option, so it was an endless scroll. You had to click around to find where you were in the book. So imagine my surprise when I reached the end of the book. I feel like this novel could be the start of a series. There is more story and depth to the situation that can be explored because the reader is left in limbo.
But otherwise, this is an engaging read. Once the story found its groove, I didn’t want to put it down. I think all readers will find enjoyment in Berliners. Thank you, Random House Children’s/Knopf, for sending this along.
“But that mother had gone away years ago. She stopped gathering them on her lap, stopped telling them about forests and caves. In her place, she’d left two Ilses.”
“Is it right to make people laugh at someone else’s expense? What if the person isn’t there? What if they’re in on the joke-does that make it all right?”
“I’ll know when it’s right up against me, he thought. When it whispers its name to me in the dark, then I’ll know what the next step is.”
“They said we needed the dictatorship because Germans were so tainted that we couldn’t be trusted to change. They said we needed them to educate us in how to stamp out the past. And people were in such shock that they rolled right over and went with it.”
“How many bedrooms are there in this country? thought Rudi. How many fathers and sons have been having this same conversation every day since 1945?”
“What I did, I did. No one did it to me. The need to belong, the pressure to conform, the constant external blame-these find a pinhole in your shame and wiggle open, and the evil that already resides within you begins to seep outward. Do you understand? No one does it to us. It spills out from within.”
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