Penguin Random House
I have never been a student of post-war modern history so my knowledge of the Cold War has always been minimal – sketchy even – but, as serendipity would have it, not one but two of my most recent audio ‘reads’ on my daily commute have referenced this period extensively and in great detail.
Now Felice Arena has brought this era to life for young readers with a compelling narrative based on facts. Peter is swept up in the swift and cold-hearted division of Berlin when his parents and younger sister are in the West on a day visit, while he has stayed home with his grandparents in the East. In just one day the barriers become impassable and implacable with hundreds of families and couples completely sundered from each other.
For Peter this separation is utterly unbearable and from the first he begins to plot and plan how he might escape over the newly-erected barricades before the Wall becomes a concrete reality. In the course of his pursuit of a workable method of fleeing he encounters two new friends, Elke and Otto, both of whom are also trying to get to their families. The ingenuity of these other children is truly inspiring, demonstrating the lengths to which those who have been cut off from their loved ones would reach, despite the menacing threats of soldiers, guns and savage dogs.
Peter’s growing distress over his isolation but also his increasing worry over his aged and frail grandparents and their care is a dilemma which he must resolve before he can even contemplate action. Life in East Berlin is fraught with danger – the Stasi (secret police) always on the lookout for “traitors”. It almost seems inconceivable that any power would create such a heinous division of family and friends – but then it seems that the idea of building walls has not yet gone out of fashion and many will recognise the correlation and repugnancy of such action resonating in modern situations.
This is a powerful demonstration of the bonds of family and the courage of those who risk all to attain freedom from cruel and callous oppressors.
I cannot recommend it highly enough for readers from around ten years upwards and think it would be a particularly apt read for older students who are embarking on the study of this period of history.