cover image Fräulein M.

Fräulein M.

Caroline Woods. Tyrus (F+W Media, dist.), $24.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5072-0022-3

Woods traces the fates of two very different sisters from Weimar Germany to 1970s America in a debut novel that explores identity, gender, and (at times misguided) loyalty. Raised in an orphanage, Berni and Grete Metzger are as close as two sisters can be; fearless Berni is fiercely protective of her younger sister, who has hearing loss. When an opportunity arises, Berni seizes it, ultimately driving a wedge between the two sisters and splintering their relationship for decades. Berni soon befriends a diverse group, including her transgender roommate and her Jewish landlady, both of whose situations grow increasingly desperate as the Nazis rise to power. Meanwhile, Grete, coping with feelings of abandonment and failing to understand Berni’s new lifestyle, turns her devotion elsewhere. Some of the novel’s numerous plot twists are effective, but some techniques (such as an exposition-laden letter from Grete and an abrupt shift to an American setting) feel manufactured or melodramatic. Nevertheless, Woods skillfully captures the disorienting mixture of heady freedom and mounting fear characterizing 1930s Berlin, and the political and gender issues she raises add contemporary relevancy. (Jan.)