Two women. One shocking wartime secret. And a family mystery just waiting to be discovered…
Berlin Zoo, 1943: Ten-year-old Adelaide and her newborn sister are orphaned after a devastating night of bombing. Heartbroken and frightened, Adelaide runs to her mother’s closest friend, Katharina Heinroth, and the kind zookeeper takes the two little girls under her protection. As the bombing intensifies, Adelaide tries to shut out the horrors of war by caring for her tiny sister and playing with the adorable baby monkeys. But when Katharina organizes a dangerous operation to enable children and animals to escape the battle-scarred city, something goes wrong. And Adelaide has to promise her adopted mother to keep a shocking secret. A secret that will change Adelaide’s life forever.
Berlin Zoo, 2019: Bethan Taylor notices the elderly lady sitting on the bench next to her seems confused, her thoughts flitting between past and present. Ada talks of her childhood, played out in an underground bunker beneath the animal enclosures during the war. As Ada’s story unfolds, Bethan is surprised to hear a name she recognizes…
Katharina Heinroth is at the top of a list of German names Bethan found in a hidden compartment of her late mother’s jewelry box. Bethan’s father couldn’t tell her anything about the crumpled piece of paper and she’s been searching for the meaning ever since.
As the two women are brought together by the pain of the past can they help each other to heal? And after decades of silence, can Ada help Bethan to uncover a long-buried family mystery?
An unforgettable and heart-wrenching novel of a brave orphan girl and a shocking wartime secret. Inspired by a true WW2 story and perfect for fans of Orphan Train, The Tattooist of Auschwitz and The Alice Network.
I am a sucker for anything WW2. The Nightingale? Loved it. Lilac Girls? Googled half the book because I couldn’t believe what I was reading. (Believe me, it was all true). The Alice Network? Could not put it down.
This book was no exception. A work of fiction it may be, but it I think I speak for a lot of readers when I say that books about the second world war are heavy. Just when I think I can’t be surprised or horrified or disgusted further, I am proven wrong.
This dual timeline story follows Katharina and Oskar Heinroth, who in 1943 share their life with their “zoofamilie” at the Berlin Zoo. The chimps and hippos and elephants are a part of their world, and as the war rages on, they are forced to suffer heartbreaking loss and horrible conditions at the hands of the Red Army.
In present day, Veterinarian Bethan Taylor has been hired on at the Berlin Zoo, a dream come true. There, she meets Ada, who at first simply looks like an old woman (slightly “out of it”) who spends her days sitting on a bench in front of a memorial to non other than Katharina Heinroth.
The love of the people who care for these animals- both past and present- is described so beautifully. Every loss was a heartbreak for me, whether it was a person or an animal. When we think of the war we immediately go to visions of the Holocaust and Auschwitz and the gas chambers. This story shows us a different side; one I never really thought about. The efforts of the zookeepers to continue running it during wartime, and the souls who try to save the animals and the people they love.
In the present day story, Bethan is trying to find an answer to a mystery she uncovers concerning her ancestors. A mystery that began in the Berlin Zoo. A mystery that involves the old lady on the bench.
Who was Katharina Heinroth? And why is she so important 7 decades later? Who is Ada? And how does her story tie into all of this?
Overall, an amazing story. Thank you to The Book Review Crew and Bookouture Books-on-Tour for the opportunity to review this book!
A solid, 5-star (hippo) rating!