Title: Black Roses.
Author: Jane Thynne.
Genre: Historical Fiction.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK.
Publication Date: 28th March 2013.
Hardback: 480 pages.
Stand alone or Series: Stand alone.
Why did I choose to read this book? I was sent it by the publicity team at Simon & Schuster after they read my review of Meike Ziervogel’s Magda.
Where to read? A Czech/ Soviet inspired bar in Shoreditch, London called Lounge Bohemia (you have to text the owner to be able to gain access) – the secretive style would suit this story very well!
Refreshments: Set in Berlin you would have to brave a dish of pork knuckles and cabbage
It’s 1933. Clara Vine, a young and beautiful Anglo-German actress leaves for Berlin after a chance meeting lands her an opportunity to hit the big screen. When she arrives she soon finds herself confronted with the ‘real’ Berlin, a hotbed of tension and unrest. Reluctantly drawn into the glamorous inner circle of the Nazi elite and brought under the wing of Magda Goebbels Clara finds herself in an terrifying position amongst the ruling class. It is in this environment that she meets Leo Quinn, a British Intelligence worker who is acutely aware of the escalating trouble occurring in Germany and identifies Clara as a priceless asset to gain information. It isn’t long before Clara discovers a dangerous family secret and finds herself presenting an Oscar winning performance to save the people she loves.
Thynne has clearly put a lot of work into researching the Nazi regime and Berlin in the mid-1930s. As a keen historian of this period I was thrilled to learn new things about the regime from Thynne’s novel, including the Nazi’s predilection for clairvoyance, especially ‘Erik Jan Hanussen’ and his prediction of the Reichstag fire. In addition, the novel is peppered with references to the regime like, the ‘UFA-Tonwoche’, a newsreel played at social events, and organisations like ‘Arbeitsdienst’, the work service. In many instances when original words and their translations are incorporated into novels they can come across patronising and long-winded, however, Thynne manages to weave them into her narrative seamlessly.
The attention to character detail is the other stand out strength throughout this novel. Thynne has created a beautiful central character in the guise of Clara Vine. She is at once strong and fragile in terms of her determination to aide Leo and the intense fear she experiences when she is close to characters like Magda and Muller. In addition, the subtle depiction of the relationships between high-ranking Nazi officials, especially those of Goering and Goebbels, supports the tense environment in Berlin during this period.
Q&A with Jane Thynne:
1. What was your inspiration to write a story on the Nazi Wives and Women?
I have always been interested in that era of history but it occurred to me that we know very little about the women of the Third Reich. The regime had a profound effect on women’s lives – obviously on the lives of its victims, but also the lives of those ‘ordinary German women’ who lived under it. The Nazis wanted to control the lives of women in the same way that certain regimes around the world do today. I was also interested in what it would be like to be married to a historical monster and to see him in a daily, domestic setting. I felt an intimate, close-up, wife’s-eye view of history was one worth having.
2. What research did you conduct before writing the novel?
I read a lot of Third Reich literature, but as it was the women’s side that interested me I read memoirs compiled by remaining Nazi wives, such as Emmy Goering and Henny von Schirach, as well as a lot of letters from Magda Goebbels herself, and her husband’s diaries. Visits to Berlin helped me get a sense of place. Especially the Babelsberg Film studios which remain very much as they were. Though a lot of Berlin was destroyed in the war, it was important to me just to walk the streets, and understand the different quarters of the city. Finally I read a lot of spy thrillers, to hone that all important narrative tension.
3. Are the names of the characters in your novels important?
I think so. I take ages pondering names. When you name a protagonist, you have to choose one you really love, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time with them. Clara Vine is Anglo-German, so I needed to reflect that. I liked the idea of the vine, twining its way sinuously into events. Many of the other characters in Black Roses had real names already, of course.
4. How much impact does your childhood have on your writing?
Getting a little deep here, I think we all reflect patterns of relationships in our novels that were established as early as childhood. And then we write those patterns, again and again. I grew up in a family of three children, who lived in lots of places around the world, but ultimately in London. I had an emotionally distant father, as my character does, and with my brothers at boarding school felt a certain sense of isolation, as does Clara. I also read a lot as a child, and reading is what ultimately leads to writing.
5. Did you feel as a woman this was an important topic to tackle?
Very much. Women have so often been what I call ‘the hidden half of history’. Their perspective has simply not been reflected, and their stories have not properly been told. The tide is turning now, but I’ve always been hugely interested in the woman’s experience. In the case of the Nazi regime, I think it’s fascinating to speculate on what influence these women had on their husbands and what their complicity was in the crimes. The difficulty is in finding the documentary material.
6. Your novel came out around the same time as Meike Ziervogel’s Magda – how do you feel about being compared to another author?
To start with it was very strange to read a different novel about the very person I had spent a couple of years contemplating. I suppose I knew Meike and I would be compared, but Meike’s fine novel is in a very different genre from my own. It’s worked very well for us both because we’ve done a few ‘double acts’ where we can talk from our different perspectives and now we’re friends!
7. What’s your must-have snack to have on hand when your writing?
On a bad day, Green and Black’s 85 per cent dark chocolate. On a good day, almonds.
Overall this is a thoroughly enjoyable novel which offers a captivating insight into the women of the Third Reich and encapsulates the underlying suspense of the Nazi regime beautifully.
PS. Big thank you to Jane Thynne for answering my questions!
Rating: 9 out of 10 – buy it here!