Tuesday, July 10, 2012

book review: Flight from Berlin by David John

The backstory: Flight from Berlin is David John's first novel.

The basics: Set during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Flight from Berlin is a story of espionage. It focuses on Eleanor, a young, married swimmer destined to win another Olympic gold medal despite her father's (a New York Senator) disapproval of the games that support Hitler, and Denham, a British journalist.

My thoughts: I'm a huge fan of the Olympics, and reading about the stories 1936 Olympics was quite intriguing. The opening pages of the novel were fascinating. I was instantly drawn to Eleanor and her feistiness. Granted, her dialogue was sometimes heavy-handed, but it worked for her:
"The fastest man on earth is on board this ship,’ she said, interrupting Helen, ‘and he’s a Negro. He’s going to win gold in Berlin in front of the whole world. Don’t you think that’ll be one in the eye for stupid, hokey race theories? I think it’s damned right that we’re going to these Games.’"
The early chapters are told in alternating stories, and Denham's story took me longer to get into. He was less dynamic as a character.

Despite initially enjoying this novel, the stories never really took off for me. While I hoped the Olympics would provide a fascinating backdrop, it was more of an ordinary Hitler-era espionage story, and I found the pacing to be somewhat off kilter. At times this novel suffered from too much telling and not enough showing:
"Spies and journalists alike were in the information game, courting contacts, mining for secrets. In times like these the jobs were almost identical."
After that quote, it seemed clear Denham would find his to espionage, yet the actual journey took awhile. What seemed most off about this novel were its expectations of the reader's knowledge. At times I grew bored because it seemed John assumed the readers knew nothing about the time, but at other times, he name dropped for seemingly little reason other than to emphasize what the reader does know about the time.

The verdict: While this novel didn't click for me, it will likely appeal to fans of World War II fiction and those who haven't read too much about this period. John combines real people from history with fictional characters well, but overall, it failed to impress.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 368 pages
Publication date: July 10, 2012
Source: publisher via TLC Book Tours

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Flight from Berlin from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

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14 comments:

  1. This sounds alright, but I had higher hopes. With so many on my TBR, I will put this one off awhile longer. Thank you for your review.

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    1. Steph, I'm eager to see how the rest of the tour finds it. I had high hopes for it too, especially after the Library Journal, but I just didn't connect with it. In many ways, I think, I so enjoyed The Last Time I Saw Paris, which was similar in some ways, that this one fell short.

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  2. I appreciate the warning about the pacing. I'm looking forward to reading this one, but you know I'm a sucker for WWII fiction.

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    1. Anna, I used to think I was over WWII fiction, but I've since learned I do still love it, just not as ubiquitously as I used to! I'll be curious to hear how you like this one.

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  3. I am not sure this one is for me.In 2009, there was a glut of WWII fiction at my house, and I am still not really over the overload yet. I might get back into WWII again sometime, but for now I am just burnt out. I loved the way you reflected your thoughts on this book. Personal and thoughtful, yet honest at the same time. Great review today.

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    1. Zibilee, I'm pretty burned out on WWII fiction too. I still enjoy the truly unique and extraordinary, but at those standards, this one didn't hold up. Perhaps a few years ago I would have loved it!

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  4. Thanks for your review. I thought the book was a pretty good read, perfect for summer, and I was actually impressed by the fact that this is the author's first novel. I'm on the blogtour for this book as well, so I'm eager to see what everyone thought of it!

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    1. Nancy, thanks for stopping by! I'm curious to see what the rest of the tour will think of it too. It didn't work for me, but I think for a different reader, or for me at a different time in my life, it could definitely work. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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  5. Oooh, interesting...I'll be taking this to the beach with me this weekend so we'll see. I'm disappointed to see the Olympics don't feature more in the story! :/

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    1. Audra, I can't wait to read your thoughts on this one! The Olympics were somewhat prominent in the story, but not as much as I'd hoped. It was more Hitler espionage than sports.

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  6. It's too bad this one didn't quite work for you, but thanks for sharing your thoughts on it for the tour.

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  7. I do agree with you that the Olympics was a fairly minor part of the overall novel. I really enjoyed the book though, I'm sorry you didn't.

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    1. Bibliosue, I'm glad you enjoyed this one. I think if I read it several years ago I might have enjoyed it more.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!