James Moloney, The Love That I Have, HarperCollins Australia, 21 May 2018, 304pp., $27.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781460754634
This adult novel is perfectly suitable for older readers and would be an ideal study for it is rich in relevant themes, is sensitively written and has a carefully structured plot that maintains interest and suspense to the last page.
It is 1944 and Margot Baumann loves her brother, the long summer holidays and Adolf Hitler. At sixteen, living with her parents and sister in Oranienburg near Berlin she is naïve, idealistic, and ignorant of the brutalities of war. That all changes when she takes over her sister’s job in the mail house at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Told to burn the prisoners’ letters she is moved by pity to save a few and is horrified and amazed at the different world that is revealed when she reads them. One of these letters is a love letter addressed to a girl also called Margot, so she pretends that it is addressed to her and replies. From this one impulsive action develops an intense relationship with Dieter Kleinschmidt, a German political prisoner, incarcerated for opposing the Reich.
As Margot becomes more involved with Dieter it leads her to question her beliefs and attitudes. It also involves her in some daring manoeuvres fraught with danger and real visceral terror as she tries to provide Dieter with a safer place within the prison and some more food. She learns to negotiate with people who are themselves coping, not always successfully or honourably, with whatever situation the war has brought them to.
It is refreshing that in this story the focus is on two young Germans struggling to understand and come to terms with what the war has done to their life and their country. Moloney uses their letters to give depth and intimacy to their relationship and to paint a picture of an emotional landscape framed by war. Letters take time: time to write, to read and to be delivered and received. This paradoxically does not slow the pace of the story as there is always plenty of action and suspense. In a startling plot twist, we switch viewpoints from Margot to Dieter halfway through the book and see the closing weeks of WW II through his eyes. Finally, there is an emotionally powerful denouement in Australia which really brings the story home to readers here.
This is historical fiction at its best – thoughtfully written, relevant today, throwing new light on well-worn themes of love, loyalty and friendship. It is also a gut wrenching read that is up there with Anne Frank’s diary for immediacy and impact. Recommended.
Reviewed by Mia Macrossan