The outsider

Paul Dowswell's Auslander is one of the best young adult novels I've read in some time. Piotr Bruck is born in Poland, the son of German parents. His world is thrown into disarray when his parents are killed in an accident early on in Operation Barbarossa (the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union) and Piotr is taken to an orphanage in Warsaw, where he is bullied because of his Aryan looks. His face however is to prove lucky, when he is selected to be re-homed in Berlin, and fostered by high-ranking Nazis.

At first Piotr (now re-named Peter) is happy there, but he becomes increasingly disillusioned with Nazism, and when he meets Anna Reiter, the daughter of anti-Nazis, he gets drawn into her world of resistance, but betrayal is just around the corner....

This is a well-written fast-paced adventure story. It is also honest about the German experience in World War II. For much of the novel loyalties are not clear-cut, and are often confused, as indeed they must have been for many ordinary Germans. There is the odd almost caricature nasty-Nazi, but by and large the characters are well rounded, and cover a broad swathe of society (and, after all, although they may be caricatures there were plenty of nasty-Nazis). I devoured this book, and thought it was an astonishing read. Paul Dowswell is being touted as one of the best of recent historical novelists, I think the critics may be right.


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