Historical Novel Society

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An Obsolete Honor: A Story of the German Resistance to Hitler
Helena P. Schrader
iUniverse (2008)
ISBN 9780595490882
$28.95, pb, 543pp

Reviewed Steve Donoghue for the Historical Novel Society (11/08)

Helena Schrader’s new novel An Obsolete Honor deals with a dilemma of 20th century history that’s often easily forgotten by the general public: the fact that many Germans in the late ‘30s weren’t Nazis, didn’t want to be Nazis, and didn’t at all like the Nazis.

This alone would make Schrader’s novel noteworthy, but it’s got much more to recommend it; this is a meaty, gripping, entirely impressive work of historical fiction, full of observant (and surprisingly wry) prose and dialog that rings true.  Schrader has spent a great deal of time in Germany and interviewed many survivors of World War II, and as a result, the book feels effortlessly authentic in its details.

The plot centers on Philip Baron von Feldburg, an officer in the German army who intensely dislikes the changes he sees being ushered in by Nazism.  His younger brother Christian is star struck by the Reich’s early military victories, and his sister Theresa confronts the domestic side of National Socialism when she marries an up-and-coming party member.  Philip feels isolated in his discontents until he meets Alexandra Mollwitz, a General Staff worker who shares his disillusionment.  It’s predictable that the two would fall in love, but it’s handled so winningly that the reader is only pleased.

Alexandra is the most remarkable and memorable character in An Obsolete Honor, especially as she and Philip become involved in various plots to assassinate Hitler and end the madness of the war.  Actual historical figures mix with fictional characters in the time-honored way of so many historical novels, and Schrader’s portrayals are uniformly believable, even when she’s writing about full-blown Nazi psychopaths.  Readers will, of course, be prepared for several less-than-happy endings, but hope also survives.  This novel is enthusiastically recommended.