World War II stories tend never seem to go out of fashion. The stories behind ‘the story’ are commonplace and have become somewhat passe. However, it seems that Mandy Robotham has managed to find intrigue where there is reader apathy. The latest in her series on the war is The Girl Behind the Wall and follows the life and times of two twin sisters - Jutta, and Karin - and their separation following an unfortunate turn of events when Karin is in East Berlin having an operation when the Berlin Wall is erected and she is trapped.
At this point one may feel that they see where the story is going, and that the two will undoubtedly be reunited at the end following agonising years of heartbreak. This was not the case. The two sides of Berlin are well described with many chapters alternating between the two. East Berlin has its rundown feel and simplistic lives where the ruling organisation (the Stasi) have an ever-present existence. The presentation of the West is, again, as one would expect. The sense of freedom is palpable and accentuated to really provide that contrast between the two.
The unravelling of the story becomes intense when Jutta manages to find an opening between the two worlds and begins to be both a comfort to her sister, and a messenger-cum-spy. It is a highly enjoyable reading experience as the two are initially linked, then reconnected, then separated again. Of course, like any good narrative arc, there are many unexpected twists and turns as others find out about this portal, and seek to expose it. Plus, there is a Stasi man who seems a little too interested in the girls.
There is a familiarity about the writing. There is a pattern to the situations and the overall story - but it works. Page-turners like most of the famous bestsellers are popular for a reason, they provide a level of comfort for the reader and present stories that are known to connect. This familial connection and unyielding belief in hope keeps you reading.
Overall, the imagery of the two worlds is stark and endlessly fascinating. One finds themselves feeling a sense of devastation on the part of those Berliners who had already suffered so much under the fascist regime. This page turner certainly keeps you interested throughout. A thoroughly entertaining book and highly recommended.
Reviewer: Chris Reed