HISTORY

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler

Little, Brown. Aug. 2021. 576p. ISBN 9780316561693. $32. BIOG
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In her first nonfiction book, novelist and essayist Donner (Sunset Terrace) tells the astounding life story of her great-great-aunt Mildred Fish-Harnack (1902–43). Fish-Harnack was born in Milwaukee, got a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and fell in love with Arvid Harnack (1901–42), a German studying in Madison on a Rockefeller fellowship. They married and moved to Germany in 1929 and settled in Berlin, where Fish-Harnack studied for a PhD in literature. As an academic, an American émigré, and now a member of the prominent Harnack family, Mildred had a front row view of the fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazi Germany. Like Arvid’s cousins the Bonhoeffers, the Harnacks started an anti-Nazi resistance cell. They passed credible information about Hitler’s plans to whoever they thought might listen, but they were often ignored. On the eve of their planned escape to Sweden, the Harnacks were caught, subjected to a show trial, and executed by the Nazis.
VERDICT Donner’s meticulous research and novelist’s sensibility make for a riveting biography of a remarkable and brave woman; there’s also good insight into the German Resistance. Readers of Erik Larson’s biography In the Garden of Beasts will appreciate Donner’s different perspective on the same historical events and figures. Recommended to all who enjoy engaging narrative nonfiction.
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