Alexandra Alt, Promise, Scholastic Australia, July 2019, 256 pp., RRP $16.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781742991986
Fifteen year old Lene senses a change in the war against the Allies, with ordinary German people being forced to make more sacrifices. Her presence at the compulsory League of German Girls meeting is vehemently controlled, as is her friend Ludwig’s Hitler Youth attendance. Ludwig’s resistance is noted, as is his attraction to Lene. Kurt, the leader of Ludwig’s Hitler Youth group, begins to watch him closely for any misdemeanours. Kurt’s intense focus on Lene and on becoming Hitler’s soldier is increasingly dangerous as the German army begins to recruit more and younger soldiers as the war effort starts to fail. When Ludwig is ordered to the Eastern Front, Lene and Ludwig promise each other that they will be together again. Not long after, Ludwig is missing in action.
Three years later and Lene has moved with her family out of Berlin in an effort to start a post-war life. She risks returning to the clean-up of Berlin in the hope of discovering what happened to Ludwig. The city has nearly been destroyed and citizens work hard for meagre wages. Others have returned, including Kurt, whose idealism remains the same as it was during the war. Defending herself against Kurt’s advances and working amongst the rubble is tough going for Lene but she is rewarded when Ludwig returns.
Written in two parts – 1942-1943 and 1946 – the story’s time shift is an effective mechanism to propel the story into post-war Berlin. The suffering of citizens not strongly aligned with Hitler but doing their best to survive is a strong element of this poignant novel. Recommended reading, especially for those who like historical fiction.
Reviewed by Pam Harvey