Book Review – Potsdam Station by David Downing
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
We’re in the final month of Nazi Germany, with John Russell, Effi Koenen and Russell’s son Paul all providing points of view for this tale of the final days of the Third Reich.
The family is all scattered and trying their best to survive the carnage. There is real tension in this volume as one cannot be sure that any specific characters will survive. Will there be a happy ending, or will there be tragedy.
Effi is living undercover in Berlin helping others as she hides herself. The city is being bombed night and day by the Allies, and the landmarks are disappearing with every raid. Her side of the story continues the series trademark description of Berlin and how it is changing. Her character has really developed over the course of the series, she’s no longer the Babelsburg film star heroine. She’s become a real heroine, and refused to cowed by the nazi regime, albeit at a cost of living undercover.
Paul has been conscripted into the Army and is an anti-tank gunner. Again one wonders if he will survive the Soviet advance, and even if he does will be be taken prisoner alive. His tale is of the collapse of the German military and the desperation of the nazis. His interaction with a Hitler Youth unit when he gets separated from the rest of his regiment is heart-rending. You need to read it.
John has spent the period between this book and Stettin Station in the US before becoming a war correspondent. On realising that the Soviets will be first into Berlin he pulls all the strings he can find to get attached to the Red Army as a war correspondent. This doesn’t quite work, but the NKVD remember him and come up with their own very high price to get him into Berlin.
Although separate and mostly oblivious of each other’s whereabouts there are moments in the book when you expect the protagonists to discover each other. Most of these are missed, but a couple do occur, notably Paul runs into Effi a couple of times, once at a train station on opposing platforms, and again as a casualty in a field hospital where Effi is helping.
For me this is definitely the best of the series so far. I like the wider viewpoints and also the utter chaos. It also has a satisfying ending.