3 out of 4 stars
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When I picked up Iron Crossed by Renata and Phil Rose, I expected to read a story loosely based in history. Instead, I found a detailed account of an actual person who lived during the second great war. Much literature has been written to either expose Nazi atrocities or to seek understanding of how and why World War II happened. Iron Crossed does neither of these. This simple, yet amazing story of Martin Schlaefer is overall apolitical.
Growing up in a poor family on a farm in the German countryside, Martin had decided early on that he would seek out a trade when he was old enough. At 14 years of age, Martin gained an apprenticeship and left home in 1935. For the foreseeable future, his plans were to become a carpenter and thus make a living.
In 1938, a letter came that would change Martin's life forever. Hitler sent many young men, Martin included, to fortify the line between German and Poland. When his assignment at Westwall was finished, Martin was sent to work on a Kanal near Denmark. After that, he was drafted into the German army. Within a short time, Martin volunteered to be part of an unofficial outfit with the job of performing highly dangerous "special missions." Over and again, Martin distinguished himself, receiving several medals of valor. His fervor was not due to a belief in Nazism, rather a desire to do the "right thing" by his country and stay alive.
After the war, Martin wanted nothing more than to marry his Leni and settle down to live a normal life. However, this proved much harder than one would think it ought to be. Martin ended up in East Germany, controlled by Russia. Quickly thrust into poverty as a result of the war, life in East Germany was very difficult. Scrounging for sustenance became a very real necessity. Babies came. When it became very clear that living happily in Germany was not an option, Martin and Leni were forced to make choices about their future that included emigrating to Australia!
If anyone is looking for a bit of light historical fiction, this book is not for you. Imagine instead, listening to stories told by a beloved grandfather who had not only fought in World War II and was highly decorated, but also had to flee his homeland in order for his family to survive. I found the wealth of information nearly overwhelming. The writing style is more of a memoir or a biography than that of fiction. As such, it is not a quick read. I did find the richness of Martin's life to be worth the read, however.
Overall, the pace seems a bit slow, as the story unfolds rather like it would in real life. The characters are all richly drawn. I felt as though I knew Martin and his family. I felt his despair when given news of the death of family members. He rightly wondered if the whole war was really worth it. Although I feel that the younger generation needs to know what war really means, this book would be challenging for a young reader. The harshness of living through war is not softened nor diminished. I also feel I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that there are lewd references.
I did not feel that this book was edited professionally. There are multiple instances of missing commas. This did not hinder my overall reading enjoyment, but it is definitely an issue that brings my overall rating down to 3 out of 4 stars.
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