The Berlin Letters

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Modern Age

The Berlin Letters
Author: Reay, Katherine
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Time Period: Modern Age
Time Frame: 1961-1989
Geographic Area: Europe, North America
Country: Germany, United States
Topics: Berlin Wall, Spies, Cold War
Genre: Fiction
Reading Age: Adult
Format: Novel
Published: 2024

World History > Modern Age > The Cold War

Bestselling author Katherine Reay returns with an unforgettable tale of the Cold War and a CIA code breaker who risks everything to free her father from an East German prison.

From the time she was a young girl, Luisa Voekler has loved solving puzzles and cracking codes. Brilliant and logical, she’s expected to quickly climb the career ladder at the CIA. But while her coworkers have moved on to thrilling Cold War assignments—especially in the exhilarating era of the late 1980s—Luisa’s work remains stuck in the past decoding messages from World War II.

Journalist Haris Voekler grew up a proud East Berliner. But as his eyes open to the realities of postwar East Germany, he realizes that the Soviet promises of a better future are not coming to fruition. After the Berlin Wall goes up, Haris finds himself separated from his young daughter and all alone after his wife dies. There’s only one way to reach his family—by sending coded letters to his father-in-law who lives on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

When Luisa Voekler discovers a secret cache of letters written by the father she has long presumed dead, she learns the truth about her grandfather’s work, her father’s identity, and why she has never progressed in her career. With little more than a rudimentary plan and hope, she journeys to Berlin and risks everything to free her father and get him out of East Berlin alive.

As Luisa and Haris take turns telling their stories, events speed toward one of the twentieth century’s most dramatic moments—the fall of the Berlin Wall and that night’s promise of freedom, truth, and reconciliation for those who lived, for twenty-eight years, behind the bleak shadow of the Iron Curtain’s most iconic symbol.

Emily's Review

I need to read more about this period in history. I remember seeing the Berlin Wall coming down on television, but I was only 9 and didn't understand the significance. I just knew that it was "important" and something I should remember. So when I saw this book, I knew I needed to read it.

This was an extremely well-researched story. Luisa Voekler believes her parents to be dead. She was raised by her grandparents, who had emigrated to the United States from Germany. She knew little of their lives before arriving in America. One day, she finds a cache of letters that her grandfather had hidden, and it completely changes the trajectory of her life.

What I liked about this story:

Dual timelines - this nearly always works for me. I enjoyed seeing Luisa's perspective the most, as she is figuring out and breaking the codes in the letters and unearthing her family history. But her father's perspective was also really interesting for the insight into what it was like to live behind the Berlin Wall.

The pacing of this book was perfect - I never got bored or felt like things were getting too bogged down.

The inclusion of the punk scene - I would have loved even more of that. Is there a whole book like that? If so I need it.

What I didn't like:

I didn't feel like I connected with any of the characters. I really wanted to like Luisa, but for whatever reason, I just couldn't quite get there. So there was no emotional connection in what should have been a very emotional story.

There were times, particularly in Haris's chapters, when it felt a bit info-dumpy. The author learned a lot of information and wanted to include it, and you could definitely see that she did a lot of research. But I felt that there were whole pages of just explaining rather than letting me experience it through the characters' eyes.

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