Ilse Stern knows in her heart that everything will start this autumn. She’s hoping for a date with Hermann Rød, the handsome boy who lives across the hall. But for a Jewish teenage girl in Oslo, Norway, in 1942, fate has something other than a night at the cinema in mind. What starts with hateful words scrawled on windows of her father's tailoring shop soon escalates into the mass arrests, forced labor and death camps of Nazi-controlled Europe.
Shifting between five different points of view, author Marianne Kaurin tells a multifaceted story. There’s Hermann, pretending to apprentice for an artist while secretly helping smuggle Jews to safety in Sweden; their neighbor, a taxi driver who finds that his work for the Nazis is increasingly challenging his sense of morality; Ilse’s devoted father; Ilse’s scared but ever-practical older sister; and Ilse herself. Between them, they demonstrate the intersecting stories of Holocaust-era resistance fighters, bystanders and victims—as well as those who managed to survive through pure luck.
Like many Holocaust books, Almost Autumn doesn’t flinch at showing the harsh realities of life and death in and around Hitler’s concentration camps. Despite errors in her descriptions of Jewish practices and a plot and format that fail to stand out in a saturated genre, Kaurin composes her difficult story with sensitivity and balance. Inspired by her family’s experiences during the Second World War, she shines a light on a dark historical time.
Jill Ratzan matches readers with books in a small library in southeastern Pennsylvania.