Synopsis (From GoodReads):With the rise of the Berlin Wall, twelve-year-old Gerta finds her family divided overnight. She, her mother, and her brother Fritz live on the eastern side, controlled by the Soviets. Her father and middle brother, who had gone west in search of work, cannot return home. Gerta knows it is dangerous to watch the wall, to think forbidden thoughts of freedom, yet she can't help herself. She sees the East German soldiers with their guns trained on their own citizens; she, her family, her neighbors and friends are prisoners in their own city.
But one day, while on her way to school, Gerta spots her father on a viewing platform on the western side, pantomiming a peculiar dance. Then, when she receives a mysterious drawing, Gerta puts two and two together and concludes that her father wants Gerta and Fritz to tunnel beneath the wall, out of East Berlin. However, if they are caught, the consequences will be deadly. No one can be trusted. Will Gerta and her family find their way to freedom?
I read A Night Divided, by Jennifer A. Nielsen, because several students in the fourth grade class I work in were reading it for book club. Everyone was talking about what a great book it was, so I decided to see for myself. I am fascinated with stories of this era. How would I react in this situation? Would I be indifferent or defiant when faced with oppression?
The story centers around Gerta and her brother Fritz. When the Berlin Wall goes up, her other brother and her father are in West Berlin. What starts out as a few nights away looking for work turns into years of separation for the family. Along with the erection of the Wall comes more and more oppression in East Berlin. Apartments are bugged so the government can listen in on conversations. Neighbors are paid (and blackmailed) to spy on each other. If the government thinks you (or members of your family) are disloyal, opportunities such as college and good jobs vanish.
Most people accept that this will be their lives from now on and don't fight it. But Gerta and Fritz can't fathom living out their lives on the whims of the Stasi (the secret police). One day, they see their father looking at them from across The Wall. He is pantomiming digging. What does this mean? Does their father want them to dig under The Wall to escape?
Many years ago, I was able to take a trip to Moscow during the Soviet era as part of a British tour group. I saw first-hand how empty the shops were. I witnessed secret dealings where people were buying and selling contraband goods. These people were desperate to have normal things like blue jeans and books from the West. As I read A Night Divided I remembered how strange it was in Moscow. I felt like we were being watched, even in our hotel rooms. If that was the feeling of a tourist, imagine what it would be like to live day-to-day in that kind of pressure cooker? This book has all those little details right. You can feel the weight of prying eyes on the characters.
This story is so intense, I could not put it down. Will they get caught? Who will sell them out, or help them? I loved the suspense of the story and all the minor characters such as the nosy neighbor and Gerta's classmate (or is it her enemy?). The reader doesn't know who is friend or foe until the very end of the story. Frankly, I was surprised that fourth graders were reading this as I was getting nightmares over reading it! But, given that the main character is 12 years old, I can see that it would be a great book for a mature fourth grader.
Release Date: August 25, 2015
Source: Public Library
Format: Hardcover book
Recommendation: An intense novel about East Germany. I think this would be a great book for middle grade readers or even mature fourth and fifth graders.