Interrogating Ellie is Julian Gray’s fictionalized account of the real life of Ellie Maurer – who becomes Ellie Bauer for the book, a British woman who lived in Austria for the duration of World War II. Gray combines Ellie’s real life and the people she knew, based on her interrogation files, with other colorful characters who are drawn and adapted from other stories of Austria during the 1940s.
The fictionalization of reality in Interrogating Ellie does not make the reality of horrors in World War II any less.
Ellie Bauer is a woman who can’t be classified, literally and figuratively. Growing up without her mother and not having any idea who her father was, she comes to adulthood searching for a family. This would seem to be why she agrees to move from Jersey to Austria with her Austrian husband and their daughter just as the Nazis come to power. To say it is a mistake would be putting it lightly.
But this is an area we don’t often read about in World War II – average Austrian families and how they dealt with national pride warring with National Socialism. And Gray handles it beautifully. Ellie goes through the things during her time with the Bauer family that many women have gone through, but it’s made more daunting by the Nazis.
When she’s cut off from her family, she’s forced to survive the war on her own in Austria. She alternates between following the rules – registering with the work and housing authorities – and breaking the rules – hosting clandestine resistance meetings while not being registered to work. It’s about survival for Ellie, nothing else. She has no firm political alliances and even as she learns more about what the swastika and the men behind it mean, she carries on for herself most of all.
And it doesn’t end after the war.
Ellie is forced to fight her way out of Austria to get home to some sort of life in England. She has to fight Austrians, Americans, and British for the right to keep searching for her place in the world. And she never really finds it, even when she wins – or what passes for winning.
Gray’s book on World War II isn’t cloak and dagger resistance movements and it isn’t focused on the concentration camps. It’s more like reality, reality that probably was for a lot of women in that time and in that place. That is what makes it beautiful.
Interrogating Ellie is available for purchase now.
I received a copy of Interrogating Ellie through NetGalley and cloiff books in exchange for an honest & original review.