Books,  Reviews

The Berlin Letters

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Near the end of the Cold War, a CIA code breaker discovers a symbol she recognizes from her childhood, which launches her across the world to the heart of Berlin just before the wall comes tumbling down.

November 1989 —After finding a secret cache of letters with intelligence buried in the text, CIA cryptographer Luisa Voekler learns that not only is her father alive but he is languishing in an East German Stasi jail. After piecing together the letters with a series of articles her grandfather saved, Luisa seeks out journalists Bran Bishop and Daniel Rudd. They send her to the CIA, to Andrew Cademan—her boss. Luisa confronts Cademan and learns that nothing is a coincidence, but he will not help her free her father. So she takes matters into her own hands, empties her bank account, and flies to West Berlin.

As the adrenaline wears off and she recognizes she has no idea how to proceed, Luisa is both relieved and surprised when a friend shows up with contacts and a rudimentary plan to sneak her across the wall. Alternating storylines between Luisa and her father, The Berlin Letters shows the tumultuous early days of the wall, bringing Berlin, the epicenter of the Cold War, to life while also sharing one family’s journey through secrets, lies, and division to love, freedom, and reconciliation.

Synopsis source: Goodreads


Genre(s): Historical Fiction
HB&W Rating: 3.5 stars
View on Goodreads
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I had the pleasure of meeting Katherine Reay at an author event she did with Ariel Lawhon (see The Frozen River). She was incredibly knowledgeable about her research and was able to recall and expound on facts from the time period of this book at will, which was amazing to me. Her passion for the topic comes through.

Also, before we get into the meat of the review, check out that cute cowl the woman on the cover is wearing! Zooming in on the cover photo didn’t yield the greatest image quality, but you can still make out the pretty blue and the subtle texture. I had the perfect yarn to work up something similar. The cowl on the cover appears knit, but I like how my crochet version is working up. What do you think?

For such a short book, Reay packs a lot into this story. While I was alive when the Berlin Wall came down, I was just a young girl and too unaware of the implications of this historic moment in time to pay much attention to it. I would also say that while I understood East vs West Berlin and the political division, I didn’t know much beyond that.

This book took my basic knowledge and expounded upon it. Events that transpired at the time that seemed completely unrelated to me beforehand are now shown in a different light. Reay does a fantastic job of relaying the very real fear people in East Berlin lived in under the Stasi and how that fear can persevere even when people are removed from it. I also found it interesting how punk music evolved and developed into political activism. I respect that so much. How brave those artists were!

I was a little annoyed at how slow on the uptake our main character was at times, but considering her level of experience (or lack thereof), she displayed courage and moxie. It took her way too long to realize that her dad’s letters were coded, considering she sought them out because she suspected her grandfather might have authored other letters she had come across in her job at the CIA. This happens pretty early on and you can surmise this to be the case from the synopsis, so I don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything here. There were a couple other times too, but those would give away spoilers if I cited them. Still, I did like Louisa. There wasn’t much to her character arc as the story is mostly plot driven, but there was some growth there all the same.

All in all, I felt like I could have been there and while it covers a hard topic, it was done tastefully and doesn’t feel too heavy. Soft historical fiction, I’d call it. If you are interested in this time period and enjoy historical fiction, check this one out!

Until next time,

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