I’ve always loved history and historical fiction, which is what I mostly read. I tend to gravitate toward WWI and WWII novels, so this book was right up my alley. However, I was not prepared for how much I’d like it.
Broken Angels, written by Gemma Liviero, is one of the best historical fiction books I’ve read this year.
This book is incredibly well-written, emotionally moving, and has fully developed, flawed characters.
Broken Angels tells the story of three individuals — Elsi, Willem, and Matilda — brought together by the circumstances of WWII. Elsi is a half-Jewish teenager living in a ghetto in Poland, Willem is a Nazi doctor, and Matilda is a Romanian child placed in a German Lebensborn center for potential Aryan adoption.
Willem is the son of an important Nazi officer, which affords him a certain degree of privilege in the Nazi Reich. He works in Poland for much of the novel, where he meets and helps Elsi. They later run into Matilda when Willem is transferred to the Lebensborn center.
This is a detailed, emotional depiction of life in WWII Poland and Germany, and is all the more moving for those reasons. I’ve also rarely seen an author who can give a child a full character, both shaped by nature and circumstance. While not easy to hear about, it was masterfully done.
Willem is also a flawed character. His actions can’t be characterized as 100% good or bad, which is interesting and honest in a character — and true to human nature and what our situations hand us.
My only small critique is that it took a long time for the characters’ stories to intersect. However, the individual stories were so well-told and crucial to the character development that by the end of the book I didn’t mind this anymore.
Anyone who enjoys history and complex characters would enjoy this book, and I will be reading more by this author. Overall, I give it 4.5 stars.
I listened to this as an audiobook read by Nico Evers-Swindell and Emily Foster. Evers-Swindell read Willem’s point of view, while Foster read for Elsi and Matilda. I really dislike when there are two readers for three or more parts, which I think does a disservice to the characters who don’t get their own voice.
Additionally, Foster is a so-so reader and can’t voice either of these characters very well. Both narrators are a bit flat, and this is not the best audiobook I’ve listened to.
That said, I liked this book so much that I think you will enjoy it whether you listen to it or read it yourself.