At this point in my life I have read so many WW2-based novels and memoirs, that I’m either disappointed because the content is too overdone, or overjoyed because someone takes a new angle and delves into it to create a new story. I just finished Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein and all I can say is WOW. Jennifer Cody Epstein manages to recreate several eras and places that are so close to my heart, and weave together lives in a way that you literally cannot put the book down. I’m not kidding when I say I couldn’t put it down - I read Wunderland on my phone and was literally walking around the house doing chores half- heartedly with one hand while reading with the other.
Wunderland is the story of best friends Ilse and Renate in pre-war Berlin, and of Ava, Ilse’s daughter, as a small child and then teen in Berlin, as a young mother and then finally as a mother to a teenager in NYC. The novel skips between times and places, but I had no problem with that: it actually helped with the plot development and intrigue. I love novels that throw readers a breadcrumb here and there, along a winding trail, making you work for the storyline rather than just sitting along for the ride.
Jennifer Cody Epstein has amazing attention to detail, and the descriptions in the novel are brilliant. So brilliantly done that there are parts that play out in front of you, and you feel as if your eyes are glued to a window pane, unable to divert them elsewhere, as much as you want to. The depictions of Kristallnacht are so vivid and real, I actually had to breathe through the waves of nausea rolling through my body. (I had similar emotions reading Herman Wouk’s War and Remembrance).
I also found that Jennifer Cody Epstein did a great job showing just how seamlessly the isolation of the Jewish people happened in Germany, and also how in general the rest of the German population just took it in their stride that people who were once their friends, neighbors, bakers, etc, were suddenly lesser humans. It never starts with the camps. It starts with a few people sowing seeds that then develop into believed truths, and then suddenly crowds are whipped into frenzies, and eyes are blinded by hatred. I also appreciate that Wunderland doesn’t sugarcoat anything: you will most definitely not like all of the characters in the novel.
I’m so glad I read this book, and recommend it to everyone. I haven’t read any of Jennifer Cody Epstein’s other work so I’m going to jump on that in the new year, as her writing really speaks to me. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy, and to Jennifer Cody Epstein for writing such a wonderful novel!