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The Radio Operator by Ulla Lenze


Spanning three decades and three continents, the central character is by turns Joe in the USA, Josef in Germany, and José in Latin America. Based on the true-life story of Josef Klein, this is the tale of a German immigrant targeted by shadowy Nazi forces in late 1930s New York.


Josef has made Harlem his new home, after immigrating from Germany fifteen years earlier. By day he works at a print shop, but at night he studies his passion, Morse code, building a radio receiver that connects him to people around the globe, including fellow radio enthusiast Lauren, who eventually wins his heart.


But when World War II begins, everything changes for Josef when his radio expertise puts him on the radar of German intelligence in the States. He reluctantly becomes their collaborator and is on the fringes of what would be later called The Duquesne Spy Ring. His decision to build a radio for the Nazis will have devastating and long-lasting consequences on his life.


The novel moves between New York in the late 1930s, Germany in the late 1940s, and Latin America in the early 1950s. I do wonder if the book would have been more engaging if it was told chronically, rather than all the back and forth. But nonetheless, it was an interesting read about a character from history who I hadn’t heard of before.


Reviewer: Karen McMillan

HarperCollins, RRP $35.00