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Berchtesgaden, Germany, is a beautiful place, set among the gentle meadow-clad hills rising to the sheer heights of bare Alpine peaks. It is here where an elderly woman arrives and recollects her past—and her peripheral role in a chapter of world history. She walks along a beaten path, which has come into being because so many tourists have ventured this way . . . to see something that exists only in her memory.
In the summer of 1944, twenty-year-old Marlene is thrilled when her older, more glamorous cousin, Eva Braun, Adolph Hitler’s mistress, invites her to come to the Fuhrer’s Bavarian mountain retreat. Against her father’s wishes, Marlene accepts, and immediately sets forth to Berghof.
There, while Hitler is away desperately trying to turn the tides of war, Marlene finds herself in a strange paradise, a world of opulence and imminent danger, of freedom and surveillance. The two women sneak off and skinny-dip in a nearby-lake, watch films in the Fuhrer’s private cinema, and flirt with the SS officers at the dinner table—one of whom will become Marlene’s first lover.
Initially delighted by Eva’s attentions, Marlene later tries to understand the elusive connection between her cousin and the man she loves.
In quiet defiance, she begins to commit her own acts of subversion, which include listening to BBC radio broadcasts, forbidden by the Fuhrer. But a clandestine mission of mercy will force her to question her allegiance to both her cousin and her country—and to face the chilling reality that exists outside her sheltered world.
Based on the true experiences of Eva Braun’s cousin, Gertrude Weisker, who has shared her memories with Sibylle Knauss after more than fifty years of silence, Eva’s Cousin is a novel that illuminates the banality of the domestic face of evil. It casts a special light on the profound questions of innocence and complicity that still haunt much of the world today.
In the sweltering summer of 1944, Germany's citizens were trapped between the Allied bombing raids and the fear-driven virulence of Hitler's faltering government. But for 20-year-old Marlene, invited by her cousin, Eva Braun, to stay at Hitler's mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden, the summer was one of sexual and social awakening. Marlene is initially blinded by the unaccustomed luxury, but she turns out to be both sensible and sensitive. While she has an affair with an SS officer, she also hides a young Russian boy who has escaped the work camps. Based on interviews with Braun's real cousin, the novel is a sympathetic portrait of an innocent girl who, while she seems ensconced in the heart of the Nazi empire, is actually a resistance force of one. An older, disenchanted Marlene looks back on these events and says that the entire country was steeped in guilt and shame: "We remember gray-faced people whom we saw passing by, and we remember that we saw them in the knowledge that they were lost." When Knauss implies that Marlene's experience can explain mass support for the Nazi regime, the moral center of the book falters, but her sparely poetic and intense portrait of a young girl caught between her own ethical code and the promise of power is unrelentingly powerful. A bestseller in Germany, the narrative is adeptly translated by prize-winning Anthea Bell, who has also rendered W.G. Sebald's works into English; it may well make Knauss's international reputation.Readers must judge for themselves whether the protagonist's description of her family as outspoken anti-Nazis is revisionist history, but her memories of Hitler and his entourage are bound to excite interest. FYI:Prohibited by her husband to speak about her past, the real-life protagonist of this novel, Gertraud Weisker, waited until after his death to tell her story to veteran German novelist Knauss.