Tunnel 29: The True Story of an Extraordinary Escape Beneath the Berlin Wall

Helena Merriman. PublicAffairs, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-1-5417-8884-8
Based on a BBC podcast, Merriman’s intriguing yet uneven debut history focuses on Joachim Rudolph, a young East German who, in 1962, helped 29 people escape to West Germany through a tunnel he dug underneath the Berlin Wall. Merriman details Rudolph’s war-torn childhood; teenage participation in anti-Soviet demonstrations, where he witnessed East German tanks crushing fellow protesters; escape to West Germany by crawling overnight through a field; and planning and digging of the tunnel with a group of coconspirators (“hours hacking into clay... pulling out small handfuls at a time”). Fleshing out the story’s Cold War context, Merriman also describes President Kennedy’s delayed reaction to the wall’s construction, East Germany’s use of informants to stop the exodus to the West (Rudolph’s first attempt to help refugees escape was thwarted by the Stasi), and NBC’s agreement to fund construction of the tunnel in exchange for documentary footage. Unfortunately, the overwrought narrative style distracts (“And so Joachim joins the ranks of fatherless German children and a seed of anger blooms in his stomach that he doesn’t yet know what to do with”), and the brief chapters, which shift viewpoints abruptly, sacrifice depth and clarity for the sake of action. This Cold War history doesn’t quite live up to its potential. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 04/28/2021
Release date: 08/24/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-5491-9303-3
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