A Lightness in My Soul by Annette Oppenlander

A Lightness in My Soul by Annette Oppenlander
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Inspired by the incredible true story of a German teen taken prisoner at the end of WWII, determined to survive and to reunite with his mother – A Lightness in My Soul is a tribute to the triumph of hope and redemption against all odds.

Germany, October 2019: In a car repair shop an elderly man waits next to a woman. They begin to talk about the Great War, when he was just a teen. He tells her a story, one he has never shared—his own.

Bavaria, April 1945: For the last two years, fifteen-year old Arthur and his classmates have lived in a youth camp. Far from home and allied bombs they spend their days with lessons, hikes, play fights and helping local farmers harvest ever decreasing crops. They have been told that the war will be over soon and that they’ll return home to a victorious Germany.
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When the U.S. Army marches into camp, they are arrested and taken to the just liberated Dachau concentration camp. Everything they ever believed turns out to be false. They were lied to… not only has Germany lost the war, what they find is monstrous. But being a prisoner is only the beginning of their ordeal…

War is never easy for anyone, especially minors.

Arthur was a likeable character. He struck me as someone who was kind of hard on himself for the portions of his story that he would have done differently if he’d known all of the bends and twists in it from the beginning. His mistakes were generally minor ones like wishing for larger meals when rations were cut yet again or to no longer catch diseases like scabies that can spread so easily in institutional settings. These small moments humanized him. Honestly, I would have complained about them, too, if I’d been in the same situation. I kept hoping for a happy ending for him no matter how unlikely his chances of getting one might have looked at the moment.

The ending felt a little abrupt to me, especially considering all of the traumatic experience Arthur had been through during the last few years of World War II. There were some important subplots that were never resolved, especially as they pertained to some of the people he met along the way. While I definitely wouldn’t expect every single one of my questions to be answered due to this being loosely based on a true story that was set during such a turbulent era, it would have been nice to have a few more conflicts resolved.

This novella was filled with detailed descriptions of Arthur’s life at a Kinderlandverschickung, a rural camp set up for children and youth by the Third Reich to protect them from allied bombs, as well as his much more difficult experiences shortly after the war ended. Arthur observed more human suffering during these teenage years of his than many people know in a lifetime. I appreciated how honestly he shared his tale, especially the portions that he found painful to recount.

A Lightness in My Soul was an absorbing tale I’d recommend to adults and teens who are interested in what life was like for German civilians during World War II.

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