Sigrid MacRae’s A World Elsewhere: An American Woman in Wartime Germany is the true story of her parents and her family during World War II. Her father was a German baron born in Russia and left penniless after the 1917 Russian Revolution. Her mother was wealthy American born to privilege in Connecticut. Both of parents had wandering spirits and they met in Paris in 1927. It wasn’t long before they were married.
As everyone should know, Germany wasn’t the best place in the world to be during the 1930s when Adolf Hitler was consolidating power and spreading his reach beyond German borders. For a poor baron who wanted nothing more than to work in diplomatic circles, it was bound not to turn out well. With few options and six children to support, Sigrid’s father joined the German army and was soon killed on the Russian Front.
The rest of the story belongs solely to Sigrid’s mother, Aimee. Having supported her family on her inheritance, she finds herself cut off as war rages on. And as it ends, she dreams of going back to America, of taking her children to the safety of their home. The Soviet advance on Germany makes getting out all the more important. American laws get in the way, though, and prevent her from taking all of her children home. So she spends years struggling to survive, years struggling to put her family back together, and finally years more struggling to find her place again as an American woman.
There’s a lot to be learned from this book, things you won’t hear on documentaries or see in books. Through the eyes of Aimee and her husband, Heinrich, you can see how it was for an American in Germany. That’s a rare thing, for an American audience.
The only negative of the book is that the details of daily life in some places can get a little heavy but it’s important to bear in mind that it is the story of one family and it is therefore important that the details be there for the descendants of that family. For the wider audience, the history of the family and how the times affected them are what are most important.
A World Elsewhere is available for purchase now.
(I received a copy of A World Elsewhere through NetGalley in exchange for an honest, original review. This review will be cross-posted on NetGalley, Goodreads, and my blog.)
I learned of this book when I saw a “making of…” thing for the movie before a different movie. As a history lover with a passionate interest in all things Europe and World War II especially, I knew I couldn’t let the book pass by. But it could have passed me by. Maybe I would have felt differently if I didn’t buy it when the movie came out, I even got the movie tie-in edition, and the press was saturated with the story. I made the mistake of watching an hour long special on National Geographic while I was reading the book. I say it was a mistake because it was the book in an hour.
And the book could have been that much shorter.
It’s an essential part of history, there’s no doubt about that. The book just could have been written better. There were too many “main characters”, for lack of a better word. It was clear that Edsel found George Stout and James Rorimer to be the most interesting characters. It was also clear that he felt as though he had to have a cast of supporting characters. Walker Hancock and Robert Posey and all the others were hugely important figures in the Monuments Men. They didn’t seem quite so important to Edsel. Every time anyone who wasn’t Stout or Rorimer was mentioned, Edsel brought them into them into the picture. I understand that they were in the picture. I just feel as it could have been written different. Less repetitive and choppy, I suppose would be the best way to put it.
The story could have followed Stout or Rorimer, even both of them, and still hit on all the most important things because they were there. Hancock and company would have had their time in the spotlight too. As it was, I found myself tired of hearing that George Stout was dapper and a stickler for details. I heard that in every chapter.
In the introduction to the book, Edsel admits that he meant to cover all of Europe but that there was just too much information so he planned to write a separate book on Italy and the Monuments Men there. Perhaps it would be best as an entire series. Although I’m not ready just yet to read the book on Italy after this. Additionally, I felt that the book could have been greatly enhanced by color photographs of the artwork they recovered. There were grainy, World War II era photos reprinted but they left a lot to be desired. I have been informed that there is a companion book of photographs but… I have Google too.