It’s often said that “the only thing that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”. This quote, frequently misattributed to Edmund Burke, is brought up as a call to action, a reminder that evil can always surface if no one bothers to make even a small stand against it.
It is a particularly apt quote for a book set in Germany in the years leading up to World War I. In 1933, Hans is a German teenager, aware of the rampant antisemitism in his society but relatively sheltered from it by his parents and his own youthful blindness. His growing attraction to a Jewish girl in his class, however, draws him ever closer to the struggles engulfing Germany.
When I read the blurb, I at first assumed this would be yet another YA novel featuring a protagonist deliberately crafted to be palatable to a modern audience who proves himself to his love interest. This book is far more subtle and tragic than that. I highly recommend this book, with the addendum that we should not excuse Hans for what he does and does not do. We must, however, understand him, if for no other reason than to be better.