Nina Sankovitch
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Nina Sankovitch

Growing Up In War: My Berlin Child, by Anne Wiazemsky

Anne Wiazemsky’s compelling biographical novel, My Berlin Child, tells the story of her mother’s experiences with the French Red Cross during WW II, first as an ambulance driver in the south of France (with a secret life as a resistance fighter moving fugitives with her ambulance) and then working in post-war Berlin to repatriate hundreds of French prisoners, many of them deathly ill, from Soviet control. The facts alone make for a fascinating story but what holds the reader to the page is the complex character of Claire herself, a young woman finding freedom — and herself — in the exhilaration of war and danger, and away from the sphere of her powerful father and her family’s staid Parisian existence. In Berlin, living amidst a horror of hunger, cold, and desperation, she comes to understand it is not exhilaration that sustains her but the fact of being needed and of answering the call, body and soul. She commits herself to Berlin, to the man who loves her, and eventually, to the child she will bear in the ravaged city.

The final chapter of the novel could have been left out; it is a jarring insertion of an unnecessary epilogue. A more chilling — and telling — conclusion would have focussed solely on the fate of the doctor who delivered the Berlin child. His story is a vivid encapsulation of war, where the worst of inhumanity exists side by side with the best of humanity, and makes the story of Claire, who held on tightly to her humanity amidst all the horror, an exaltation of possibility for us all.

My Berlin Child was translated from the French by Alison Anderson.

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Because being witness to all types of human experience is not only important to understanding the world, but also to understanding myself.

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Nina Sankovitch

Nina Sankovitch

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