review: West of the Wall

West of the Wall
by Marcia Preston

The year after the Berlin Wall was constructed, Trudy Hulst and her family were divided when her husband, a political activist, made his escape to West Berlin. As a defector’s wife, she found herself in danger of imprisonment and soon followed Rolf over the wall, leaving her one-year-old son in the care of his frail grandmother. Once she acclimates to life outside the wall, her number one priority is recovering her son, Stefan, and her mother-in-law, Gisela–a feat that seems impossible. But with the visit of US President John F. Kennedy, she finds renewed hope. She must navigate the world of politics and media to form a plan–legal or illegal–to reunite her family.

If not for the fascinating history immersed in this story, it would be more of a three star read for me. Reason being, there is not much depth to the characters. There’s a split narration between Rolf, Trudy, Wolfgang (friend of the family), and Schweinhardt (Wolfgang’s rival in the Volkspolizei), and while this gives a panoramic view of the story, it lessens the details with each one. It also includes a story line that seems a little unbelievable. However, because this book inspired me to do further research (I actually watched a 1.5 hour documentary on the Berlin Wall) and it is factually accurate, I must admit that this is a fine introduction to its subject matter for historical readers.

This book has been republished under the title Trudy’s Promise. The title West of the Wall originated from a song by Toni Fisher (1962), although there is no mention of this in the story–it’s just something I came across on my research binge. As I read, I was reminded of another song from one of my favorite bands, Third Eye Blind, which may or may not have a more current political message. Coupled with the YA book I read last January (Going Over by Beth Kephart) this era is quickly becoming an area of interest with me.

“Red Star”

The police high beam froze her perfect face
In white glow for a while
The politburo’s on high alert
And her name showed up on file
There’s trouble with their war effort
And she’s been speaking out
Checkpoint Charlie’s radioing in
She’s compromised in doubt
There’s trouble with the war effort and she’s crossed the party line
You were so pretty in the days you spoke your mind

You were so pretty oh
And you were so pretty oh oh oh
Well I don’t know…

The files have been filled
The regime won’t be undermined
You were so pretty in the days you spoke your mind

Quiet now don’t make a sound
The system shut us down now we find each other in the underground
She had the voice once of the people
now she’s timid as a mouse
I would kiss you on the mouth in a safe house

Cause you were so pretty oh
hiding out
hiding out
You were so pretty oh
hiding out
hiding out
Walk on by
hiding out
hiding out
Walk on by
She’s a red star
She’s a red star

Tell me how did you let them in
We were silent secret agents
But the resistance is wearing thin
Dissent is now illegal
She must pay the consequence
In this thriller mystery baby
You are my suspense

Cause you were so pretty oh
hiding out
hiding out
You were so pretty oh
hiding out
hiding out
Walk on by
hiding out
hiding out
Walk on by
She’s a red star
She’s a red star

You’ve come so far to back down now…

There’s a plethora of You Tube videos on the Berlin Wall. Here’s the one I watched, from the History Channel: