Schroder, Monika. My Brother’s Shadow. Farrar, Straus & Giroux: $17.99
War stories often focus on the battlefront or the soldier’s journey. But the realities of war are that they are often fought inside families. Monika Schroder’s My Brother’s Shadow tackles the complex emotional and political battles within families during Germany’s early struggles during World War I to overthrow Kaiser Wilhelm II and create a social democracy. Set inBerlin in 1918, this novel, told from the perspective of sixteen-year old Moritz Schwartz, looks at political differences in a country where some wanted to mimic the Russian communist experience while others wanted the right to vote in a democracy. But she also tackles the emotional and physical destruction returning soldiers and their families must face and overcome if they are to remain families.
Moritz, who works as a printer and writer for The Berliner Daily, discovers the complex political schism within his own family. His father died protecting the Kaiser’s regime and his brother, a staunch supporter of the Kaiser, is one of the walking wounded who returns from the front. Moritz’s mother and sister Hedwig, both supporters of women’s suffrage, are highly visible and frequent speakers at demonstrations demanding the overthrow of the Kaiser. Moritz tries to cope with his maimed brother’s bitter tirades blaming Germany’s defeat on everything but the “old order,” but soon realizes that his allegiance really lies with his mother and sister who support the new democracy. Facing limited food supplies and hostile mobs, Mortiz writes about demonstrations in his city’s streets and comes to share his publisher’s view: “War gives meaning to some men’s lives. For other men, the war extinguishes all meaning in life.”
Readers will find this personal look at the consequences and sacrifices of war to resonate, in the end, with the newly found strength of conviction in the family’s fight for democratic freedom.
Schroder, who grew up in Germany, did not plan to grow up to be a writer, finds she loves “spinning stories while researching the past.”