Dr. B

Harper: HarperCollins. May 2022. 256p. tr. from Swedish by Deborah Bragan-Turner. ISBN 9780062939814. $27.99. F
DEBUT Birnbaum, the former director of Stockholm’s Museum of Modern Art, was inspired by his grandfather’s life to craft an absorbing first novel about World War II. At the outset of the war, Stockholm rivaled Casablanca as a bastion of political intrigue. Immanuel Birnbaum, a German-Jewish journalist who writes under the pen name Dr. B., has come there as a refugee with his young family. He survives by writing for a Swiss newspaper and provincial German papers less scrutinized by the Nazis and develops a varied circle of acquaintances, among them an English businessman who has recently and somewhat oddly published a book on Swedish mining with a prestigious British literary publisher. Immanuel is mysteriously solicited to provide political information—via letters written in invisible ink—to people apparently tied to his publisher in Germany. The real purpose of the letters is different, however; an anti-Nazi plot is exposed when Immanuel’s first letter is intercepted by Swedish postal authorities, and he is arrested along with several British agents. But who betrayed him?
VERDICT This complexly plotted, fact-based tale filled with shadowy characters and unlikely coincidences is an altogether engaging piece of literary historical fiction.
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